Every experience in a child’s life contributes to development, for better or worse. That’s why it is so important to be sure that your child has ample play time and appropriate play things. Play is an important aspect of learning and development. Children need playtime to develop creativity, work out problems and prevent and reduce stress. In this article, we will discuss toys and their importance in a child’s life.
We would like to cover questions such as:
- Why is it important for a child to play?
- What is the role of play in early childhood education?
- How do toys help in the development of children?
Read on to learn more.
Not all toys are created equal
Toys that spark your child’s imagination while engaging all the senses help your child with such important basics as fine motor skills, muscle development and hand-eye coordination. They also stimulate critical thinking , problem solving and interactive skills .
Some toys can have a negative influence. Toys that merely provide entertainment and “play for” your child may tend to dampen all of these important areas of development. Don’t introduce electronic devices too early, and don’t allow your child to become heavily dependent on them.
Even if you tend to use electronic devices for reading and gaining information, be sure that your child also has his or her own collection of actual books readily available for easy, independent quiet time.
As you shop, pay close attention to the listed age level appropriateness. It may seem tempting to challenge your child with toys intended for older children, but this can be a source of stress as your child struggles to understand and operate toys and games without having sufficient cognitive development and motor skills to do so. This can be very frustrating and may leave children with a feeling of failure. Keep a close eye on this and dial back the challenges when appropriate.
Age and ability – appropriate toys support healthy development
In addition to your child’s actual age, take his or her developmental age into account. There may be some areas in which your child is learning and developing gradually and others in which she is advanced. Keep this in mind as you make your toy selections.
Be sure that your child has a good mix of indoor and outdoor toys to help develop overall muscle strength, fine motor skills, artistic skills, a sense of healthy competition and sportsmanship and more. A child who enjoys quiet indoor pursuits and romping about outdoors is a well-rounded child. If you do not have a yard or garden, be sure to take your child to the local park or playground on a regular basis for some healthy, outdoor play.
What is the role of play in early childhood education?
Structured play time helps your child learn how to interact with others. Play dates, and planned activities help your child learn how to be a successful member of society while gaining new information and learning new skills. All of these are certainly important aspects of early childhood education; however, don’t neglect independent play.
Unstructured play time is very important. If all of a child’s play time is managed, guided and supervised the result can be a child (and later an adult) who has trouble knowing what to do with himself without instructions.
Giving your child free time and easy access to active toys, creative toys, reading and art materials provides valuable training in self-motivation and self-direction. Open ended, child initiated, child controlled play time helps your child sort through questions, make sense of the world and become a confident individual.
Some of the very best toys for independent play are also the simplest and cheapest. Everyday objects such as:
- Colouring books and crayons
- Assorted plastic containers
- Home made play dough
- Paint and poster board
- Cardboard boxes
- Building blocks
- A ring of keys
- Pots and lids
- Foam balls
… can provide hours of creative fun that helps build a healthy imagination.
It’s good for children to know how to play independently, but be careful not to expect your child’s toys to keep him or her occupied at all times. In addition to choosing your child’s toys carefully, you can help him or her make the most of play time by engaging in play yourself. Shared play time is an important and valuable bonding opportunity.
Playing with your child helps you remain aware of his or her individual strengths and capacities. Simultaneously, when you play together you help your child learn more while building long-lasting, happy memories. As your child learns while playing with you, he or she will develop a positive attitude toward learning, which will help tremendously in school and throughout life.
Choosing toys for your child
Follow these guidelines when choosing toys for your child:
- Be sure that toys are age appropriate.
- Read reviews and warnings before purchasing.
- Read through the instructions before assembling or using any toy.
- Be certain toys are safe and flame proof. Look for toys that have been approved by reputable parenting organizations and consumer protection organizations.
- Examine toys carefully for sharp edges, broken parts or small parts that might be swallowed or inhaled.
- Double check to be sure that riding toys can support your child’s weight and that he or she is strong and agile enough to operate the toy safely.
- Look for toys that will engage and stimulate your child’s mind, body and emotions.
To keep your child interested and make the most of the toys you purchase, manage them wisely. Don’t keep everything out at one time. Rotate sets or groups of toys. Time the introduction of new toys so that your child will frequently have some new and interesting way to engage a favourite toy.
If a toy has lots of parts or accessories, don’t dump everything out in front of the child at once. Allow him or her to thoroughly explore one aspect before adding another. This will help extend enjoyment and appreciation of the toy.
Selecting the right toys for babies
A baby is a blank slate in many ways. Every object, sight, sound, smell, shape, texture and taste is a brand new learning experience. When you take care to select safe, stimulating, interesting toys for your baby you help him discover his senses. Some of the best baby toys are simple classics such as mobiles, rattles and balls in contrasting primary colours to help train the eye and develop the senses.
Busy boxes that make music and sounds help develop hand eye coordination along with sound recognition and an awareness of cause and effect. Plastic blocks and sorting shapes can also help with hand eye coordination and build neural pathways for learning to learn.
How to transition into toddlerhood
As your baby grows into a toddler, don’t make the mistake of replacing all baby toys with toddler toys. Favourite stuffed toys, blocks and other favourites can easily transition into the toddler years. Just add more sophisticated version (e.g. Legos to go with classic square blocks) for more complex play. Add alphabet and number shaped blocks to sorting shapes so that your child can easily and effortlessly learn the names of letters and numbers.
Preschool and elementary school age toys
As your child prepares for school, it’s a good idea to introduce learning toys that will help develop skills with language, letters and numbers. If your child has been playing with letter and number shapes, he or she will surely have a comfortable familiarity with the alphabet and the numbers, 0-9. Now you can add toys and learning materials that teach the concepts and values of these familiar friends.
Alphabet and number puzzles and interactive electronic games are examples of good additions to a preschool or early school years’ toy collection. Familiarity with these concepts will give your child a head start at preschool, kindergarten and first grade. This can make these big life changes far less stressful for your little one.
For children every experience is a learning experience
In addition to educational and developmental benefits, caring for a collection of toys can help your child learn good habits. Keeping toys tidy, sorting through them and choosing which to keep and which to donate helps your child learn how to care for his or her belongings throughout life. Never discard your child’s toys without consulting him or her.
Be aware that throughout childhood, a child may occasionally regress in times of stress or when major life changes occur (e.g. a move, a marriage, a new school) having old favourite toys and belongings on hand can be very helpful at these times. Being without them can cause distress.
Of course, you can’t keep everything forever, but carefully chosen, high quality toys can easily transition from one developmental stage to another perhaps with a slight change in role. For example, favourite snuggle toys can become bedside decorations and eventually treasured keepsakes.