What if you could gift your child more than just a physical toy for Christmas this year? What if you could inspire them, build confidence, and encourage growth with the simple joy of a toy? The truth is, the kinds of toys we choose for our children can either inspire or stunt imagination, learning, confidence, and growth. How do we know which toys to choose? Here are four simple guidelines to keep in mind when purchasing toys. This can help open a world of growth in your household!
- Choose toys that inspire imagination.
Imagine two 3-year-olds in two different homes who get firetrucks for Christmas. Reggie is thrilled to receive a firetruck that lights up, makes siren noises, and even drives and extends the ladder by itself! Sam gets a firetruck with a removable firefighter and Dalmatian in the driver seat and a ladder he can move up and down. All morning, Reggie and Sam play with their trucks. Reggie pushes the buttons over and over until he becomes bored with hearing the same three sounds. He then sits back and watches the truck drive itself, excited at first, only to lose interest after repetitive motion in the same direction. Sam creates siren noises himself, testing out different ones and making up various meanings for them. He pushes it along the couch, the floor, the stairs, and even across dad as he naps, imagining how the truck sounds and what the firefighter might say or do!
Both of these firetrucks are fun and cool, but only one inspires the child to play rather than doing the playing for the child. As our dear friend Mr. Rogers used to say, “Play is the work of childhood,” and we want our children to do the work! Toys without batteries encourage children to be PROactive players rather than REactive players.
Does this mean that we should throw away all toys that have batteries and never let them play with electronics? Of course not! However, it’s important to ensure your child has ample opportunity to direct their own play by providing toys that put them in charge.
- Choose toys that promote independent play.
Children need time to play with others (and us!), but they also need time to play independently. Independent play builds confidence in children as they learn to do things themselves. And let’s be honest, every parent could use some peace and quiet while their child plays alone!
In order to promote independent play, choose toys that your child can easily manipulate without asking for help. Toys should also be sturdy to allow children to test their limits without breaking them. For example, a wooden dollhouse or firehouse with wooden furniture, will likely outlast a plastic one.
- Choose toys that provide learning opportunities.
Kids learn best through investigative play. When they engage with something fun, they often don’t realize all they are learning in the process! For example, in playing with this marble run set, kids of all ages use critical thinking and problem solving skills, all while learning about gravity, kinetic and potential energy, and cause and effect. Step it up a notch by adding a sibling or a friend, and they’ll be engaging their social skills as they strategize and problem solve together.
- Choose toys that will grow with your child.
Investing in quality toys can be expensive! One way to ameliorate the cost is to choose items that will grow with your child. For example, a sturdy set of wooden blocks could be a playroom staple for years. Babies can practice grabbing and holding, and bang them together to experiment with noises. Toddlers can learn to sort by color or shape, or stack them to make towers. Preschoolers can create towns or cityscapes for imaginative play. Eventually you can transition from wooden blocks to Legos or other construction toys which will provide imaginative, creative, and self-directive play through elementary school and beyond. The possibilities are endless!
Remember to choose toys that inspire imagination, promote independent play, provide learning opportunities, and grow with your child. Get ready to watch your children play, learn, grow, and build confidence!