December is often gift-giving time with all the holidays that occur. Children get excited with all the new toys that they get. But let’s take a moment to think about the toys that we give to our children. There are so many choices in the toy stores, and many boxes claim high educational and developmental value to children. How do you choose toys? What’s considered truly “educational” and “developmentally appropriate”? Do toys make a child a “genius”?
- The less the toy does for the child, the better.
It seems so much fun when a toy comes with lots of buttons and each button plays different music and makes some sort of flash of colorful light. However, often those toys are doing a whole lot, but the child is simply entertained by all the music and lights and button-pressing, instead of exploring her different skills. Not to say that you should never get those toys, but you certainly don’t need many of them.
Toys like sorting boxes, blocks, and puzzles don’t “perform” for children. Children need to figure out on their own how they can play with the toys. The key is that it’s not the toy telling children what to do – it’s children using their growing brains to solve what the toy challenges them to do.
- Toys for open-ended exploration.
Through play, children develop their motor skills, imagination, and understanding of cause and effect. Playing with a simple toy like blocks, for example, can help stimulate children’s fine motor skills when they pick the blocks up with their fingers. Blocks help promote imagination when children build all sorts of different things, and they can help children understand how their actions lead to certain results, like balancing and stacking up the blocks without knocking them down.
Toys like puzzles help children learn problem-solving skills, learn from trial-and-error, and look at problems from different angles to achieve their goals.
Again, the point is that these toys invite the child to play, but don’t automatically do things for the children. It is the child’s job to figure out what to do and these kinds of toys respond differently according to what the child does.
- Toys are everywhere.
When we hear the word “toys,” I think a lot of people envision brightly colored manufactured toys that are nicely boxed and sold in stores. But let’s take a moment and look around the house: Do you see shoe boxes, rubber bands, empty plastic bottles, or old frying pans? These common household items and recycled materials create opportunities for extremely open-ended, imaginative, and exploratory play! Follow your child’s lead and see what they can come up with using materials that are not labeled as “toys.”
Bring snacks to Tasty Tuesdays at Boston Children’s Museum and share your stories about your child’s favorite toys!