When buying baby toys and children’s toys a parent’s main concern is usually the ‘play value’ of an item more accurately how many hours fun will a child derive from a new toy. Nobody wants to see the traditional cliché of spending good money on a toy and find the child playing with the box it came in! Another important factor and one that most parents don’t consider is the benefits a toy can have on a child’s development and growth.
Children develop in a number of ways namely; cognitive (mental ability), motor (physically), and socially (through interaction with others). A well thought out child’s toy can, as well as being a lot of fun to play with, help to stimulate development in one or more of these areas. So when we visit the toy shops are there any simple do’s and don’ts we should be considering when making that all important purchase?
First of all, and rather controversially, you can pretty much avoid the new wave of e-learning toys and computer based educational toys on the market. Studies have shown that these toys do little to stimulate a child’s mental development as they tend to limit a child’s mental options in the pursuit of a single pre-determined goal. Toys that restrict a child’s imagination and ability to think ‘out of the box’ do little to promote learning as they do not develop new mental strategies or patterns of thinking. As any parent knows a child’s imagination has no limits and it is this ability to think differently from adults that allows a child to grow cognitively at such an incredible rate. By playing a game with a fixed path and single outcome the child is never encouraged to think around a problem.
Research studies have demonstrated that traditional toys are the most useful when it comes to fueling mental development simply because a child can use them in any number of ways. This allows a playhouse to be anything from a hospital to a shop to the lunar control station for the next mission into space. It is through this creative thinking that children are able to create what the famous Child Physiologist, Jean Piaget, termed ‘schemas’, or new ways of thinking.
Traditional baby toys also come up trumps when it comes to developing physical ability too. A child’s physical development can be divided into two major categories; gross motor skills (the development of the big muscles so we can run, jump and carry) and the fine motor skills (these allow us to manipulate things with our hands with great skill and dexterity). For years humble traditional toys such as shape sorters and hammer and peg benches have been great for helping hand eye co-ordination and developing little muscles and bikes, tricycles and scooters have been brilliant at developing the size, strength and co-ordination of the bodies larger muscles in older children.
Finally it seems simple toys may also be the answer when it comes to social development too. Toys that encourage interaction and team work are a great way to develop a child’s ability to empathise and work with others. Role play toys are brilliant at this, allowing a child to try new situations in a safe environment and also to work with other children to create more complex make believe situations. They allow a child to act out situations and better understand the world around them whilst feeling secure at the same time.
So next time you go shopping for that killer Christmas or Birthday present for your child consider the following points.
1. Can the toy be used in a number of different ways?
2. Can a child transform the purpose of the toy with their own imagination and ideas?
3. Is the toy fun, safe, sturdy and exciting?
4. Does the toy offer different levels of activity so it can grow with the child?
5. Does the toy allow for social interaction with other children?
6. Will this toy still be popular with a child in a years time or merely a marketing fad?
Remember that despite all the expensive marketing, glossy adverts and eye catching packaging the latest robot dinosaur won’t offer a child anywhere near the same level of developmental opportunities as the simple pull along wooden dog. Whatsmore long after Robo-Dino’s batteries have gone dead, good old spotty dog will still be going for ‘walkies’.