Learning Through Play - Educational Toys for Kids
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Published by TOP4 Team
For children, toys are perhaps the most wonderful things in the world (next to mummy's warm embraces, feeding times and naps). A toy is something that can keep them occupied for hours on end — but it can also do so much more than just create fun and enjoyment for the little ones.
Toys also present excellent learning opportunities for children. The act of playing has a big role in a child's mental, physical, emotional and social development, so parents should give careful thought to the kind of toys that they are giving their children, and observe how the little ones interact with them and use them. More than anything, these toys must be seen as essential tools that can greatly aid the child's growth.
How to find your way through Toyland
But with all kinds of toys being so abundant and readily available, how can parents choose the right ones that can benefit their child the most? Is there a way to screen toys that could potentially inhibit a child's development instead of nurturing it?
For parents who aim to provide quality toys that can truly serve as educational tools for their children, here are a few important tips to keep in mind:
Keep it simple
You've seen them at the toy store countless times before — shiny, newfangled products in bright colours and in impressive sizes or configurations, each one flashier than the next, hoping to attract more children's attention. But the biggest, shiniest and most expensive toys are rarely the best ones to aid your child's development.
Especially for babies and younger kids, the simplest toys are always the best because they allow the child to use her imagination with it. Toys that move or make a sound on their own, prompting a child to make a next move, limits the things that a child can do with it. On the other hand, creativity and spontaneity are cultivated when a child is encouraged to think about what she wants to do with an open-ended toy.
Examples of such toys would be blocks (they can be piled up to build towers, used to create lines, or used as pretend objects), balls (that can be held, thrown, rolled or bounced), cardboard boxes (which they can pretend to be their house, car, bed, hat, and other things), clothing pieces for dressing up as different people, and craft materials like paper, crayons and washable paints for creating any artwork they like.
A gentle word of advice: Don't fall into the branding trap. Parents are often under pressure to find the best toys that supposedly give their children a learning edge and prepare them well for school. What's important to focus on is the child's interaction with the toy — its brand name or "educational toy" marketing hype has nothing to do with that.
Keep it age-appropriate
The right kinds of toys can help stimulate the right skills in children at different ages.
From zero to six months, give your child rattles, mobiles and generally anything they can pull, shake, grasp, squeeze, or kick.
Babies from six to eight months can use the same toys as younger ones, although they will begin using them differently. Cause and effect is something new that they can learn at this age. They can move the items from one hand to another, transfer them in and out of containers, and repeat these movements over and over for mastery.
From eight to 18 months, babies can expect results from certain actions, or deliberately decide to make something happen. Rings on poles, shape sorters, push/pull toys, and items that can be taken apart and put back together will fit nicely in this age category.
At 18 to 24 months, playing pretend will be a favourite activity for a toddler. Dolls, kitchen sets, dress-up clothes, and toy vehicles would be excellent tools for helping them dive into this activity.
When children reach two to four years of age, socialisation will be a big part of their pretend games. All kinds of toy sets (houses, farms, construction toys and large Legos) can help them make up little stories about the things they build. Puzzles and supplies that let them doodle or colour help strengthen their motor skills and creativity. Loud noises are also considered delightful by these children, so hammer-and-peg toys as well as drum sets will be happily received.
Keep it fresh
If your child has already accumulated a large number of toys, don't make a habit of giving them to her all at once. Give her a few select toys to play with for some days or a week, then replace them with other toys for the next time period. The child will be excited to play with the "new" toys every time they are brought out, and look at them with fresh eyes.
Keep use of electronic gadgets at a minimum
In this age of smartphones and tablet PCs, it can be tempting to simply hand a child a device and move on to another household task. Resist this urge as much as humanly possible; child development experts share that frequent and prolonged use of video games and electronic toys can spawn all kinds of negative effects, such as weight gain (for lack of activity), delays in development (for lack of variety in terms of physical, problem-solving play), and a shortened attention span (because the toys teach children to always watch out for flashing lights and changes in movements, and to lose interest in slower-paced activities or non-moving toys).