You educate your child from the moment they are born. Your role is to talk, sing, interact and play as much as possible. Each time you talk to them or point out something when in the car or on a walk, they are learning something. Human interaction is the best way to help your child, and toys can play a large part in that process. With the wealth of choice available in the market place today, where do you start to make sure your child gets best out of their playtime? Outlined below are the broad categories of toys available and our recommendations on the best types to invest in.
Active play: Balance and coordination are essential skills, which children acquire over time. Once your child is physically up and about, active play is an important part of their overall development. Start with encouraging walking with push along toys that your child can amble along behind. A number of these include other educational elements such as building blocks and so make a great investment. There are some fantastic soft play toys for infants and toddlers that encourage safe physical play as well as reducing some of their endless energy. As soon as possible start to introduce catch and throw toys. There are numerous activities available and these are one of the best ways a parent can help a child to develop good motor skills and co-ordination.
Building and construction: Basic blocks may seem old fashioned but there is a reason why these traditional favourites are still widely used. Recent research published in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine outlined that children given building blocks from a younger age developed 15% higher language scores over a given period, as well as helping with their overall dexterity. Building systems such as Lego, or Mechano range from starter packages for the very young, which tend of include play characters and some simple building items to very complex packages of 1000’s of pieces to design a complete structure e.g. Harry Potter castles! Be warned however, although this can be very appealing for fathers and children to do together, the novelty can wear off, or the children become very frustrated with dad doing all the fun parts! Construction toys or ‘manipulatives’ enable children to design a variety of structures or skeletons through joining different shapes, coloured and sized materials. Try Geomags, these are particularly appealing to the architects or inventors amongst your children and marble runs are very effective for children of 3-4 years and above, as well as appealing to older children. These construction toys encourage sharing, whilst teaching children focus and concentration at the same time.
Children’s books: It goes without saying that books form one of the most essential parts of your educational toy box. Having a wide range of books available in different locations in your house will encourage your child to get involved. Audio CD‘s are a great way to have quiet time whilst improving your child’s language skills. There are now a number of book ‘apps’ for i-pads or tablets that are highly interactive and stimulating. They allow your child to listen to a book being read out loud, highlighting the words as they are being said, or allow them to read themselves, but watch the book change as they turn the page. Who could not resist watching Alice in Wonderland grow as you click on the page button?
Dramatic play: From the age of two and above, dressing up can form a highly enjoyable part of educational play and really help to stimulate and enhance a child’s imagination. Today, you can buy almost any costume conceivable; however, you don’t need to spend a lot of money. Improvisation is great, and children are better at it than us! Make sure you have some face paints available because these can turn almost any attempt at a costume into a believable outfit. Dramatic play is not just about clothing, it also involves role-play and this can be created out of almost nothing. All young children like to create their own shops from things in the kitchen or larder or be the teacher with a white board. A small set of plastic farm animals can help children to create a wide range of pretend games whilst stimulating language development and encouraging curiosity about nature as well as household pets. Puppets can also provide for hours of fun.
Arts and Crafts: Using arts and crafts can be a fun way to teach some essential educational topics as well as helping your child to develop their motor skills through handling pens and materials. Activities such as modelling and cutting are effective whilst using paints and materials to create collages can support the understanding of topics such as textures, colour, shapes, and substance type.
Games: A wide range of games exist today to support your children’s educational learning at home such as Maths games with adding, subtraction, multiplication and division, letter and word games, card games, historical or geographical games. Board games where you travel the globe to collect items will give your child a head start in geography, as well as a broader perspective on the world. The group interaction involved with also aid their social skills.
Musical play: One of the best investments in toys for a young child is a small kit of musical toys. They love learning to play basic instruments such as triangles and tambourines and will spend hours trying. Playing along to music and learning a sense of rhythm are important abilities for children. Watch out as the drums will be a firm favourite, as will the shakers! Saucepans and wooden spoons as well as rice in plastic containers make good substitutes for the more expensive alternatives.
Puzzles: Educational puzzles should be a principal part of your overall collection. Obviously some puzzles will comprise of amusing or stimulating pictures i.e. a farmyard or global scene. These inspire discussion in their own right; however, puzzles are also great to support your child’s learning of their core skills such as the alphabet, numbers as well as first letter blends. Start at around one year with the ‘knob’ variety, thick wooden puzzles with handles for easy grasping for children. These encourage hand-eye, fine motor and perception skills.
Travel toys: Don’t forget to add a few items that you can take out for a long journey. Remember you can do lots of activities in the car without toys. Old favourites such as words games help teach spellings, aid concentration and memory skills. Try taking it in turns to say a word starting with the letter from the end of the previous word, for example big could be followed by gigantic. You can move into the categories of words such as nouns, verbs, adjectives, opposites, etc. to keep the older children involved.
Electronic toys: There are lots to choose from in this category and many claim to help with educational development, but only a few are really impressive and retain the child’s interest for a long time. Our advice is to stick to the toys that have specific functions such as helping with learning letters, numbers, colours and telling the time.
Manage your Toys: It is fun to build a toy collection over time. The best way to keep toys fresh is to rotate them; regularly changing the toys available to your child will ensure they stay interesting and enjoyable to them. There are lots of cheap ways to build your toy compilation. We are big believers in village fetes; second hand shops. Friends with older children generally get huge pleasure handing down old favourites. Offer to help them do a clear out and you will not only do them a favour, but you should be well rewarded in return.