In the previous post we looked into why playthings are important for child development. We have seen on numerous examples how they contribute to intellectual, physical, emotional maturity of our younger generation. Sharing toys and learning to play together is an important factor in acquiring important for later adult life social and language skills. Let us not forget a sense of achievement, generated by every completed puzzle and scored goal, which is crucial for adequate self-confidence and self-esteem of a growing individual.
So now that we have realized the indispensable nature of toys for the development of our little dearies, what would be the next step in getting these small things provide benefit and serve to the best interests of our children? How to make sure that a toy comes up to expectations which rise every time a caring parent buys a new gift for their little one? That is a fundamental question you are going to know the answers to provided you keep reading this post. The reason why it is so important to be sure whether a toy serves to its purposes and does your child good is easily explained by a plethora of different items modern toy stores are inundated with. On the one hand, that diversity may create a certain challenge for parents to make a right decision and get a good toy especially if their kid does not speak yet and cannot help them with the choice. On the other hand, pursuing short-term market interests, some producers may develop advertising campaigns urging parents to buy supposedly educational toys that can magically boost brain development and benefit children in every possible aspect.
Therefore we would like to cover in this post the following points. First of all, we will concentrate on essential features any parent should pay special attention to while choosing the right toy for the child. Then we will look into how toys should change and evaluate in accordance with a child’s needs that mark every new step of his or her development ladder.
How safe is it?
The first and most significant criterion to navigate you through a tremendous variety of modern playthings is safety. We all agree that safety of our children is the most important thing for us, caring parents. We always want to protect them from any possible danger and risk. That’s why parents should be especially careful while choosing a toy. So it is indispensable to make sure that it does not contain any sharp edges, too small details or parts that a baby can put into the mouth. Besides, the material a toy is made from should be non-toxic and should be painted with lead-free paint. International toy safety norms and labels that parents can find on the package provide great help in this sense.
The size and weight of a toy is also a point to be considered at the time of purchase because a child should be prepared not only mentally but also physically for the toy you are going to buy him or her. Too big and heavy toys may scare kids and may become a cause for frustration, distress and even trauma. Normally, the general rule (if we are not talking about a bicycle, kids electric car etc) is that a kid should be able to effortlessly lift a certain item to fully enjoy playing with it. Though it also needs to be pointed out that any toy can be unsafe to a certain point if it is misused. To avoid this, parents are expected to provide their offspring with basic instructions on how to play safely with toys and make the most of them but we will talk about it a little bit further.
Will it last long?
Another very important characteristic to be taken into account and which is closely related to the previous one is durability of the material and toy in general. Basically it means that a toy should be sturdy and strong enough to bear the pressure a small child’s hand can put on it. Otherwise easily broken in small parts items may cause serious injuries to the kid. Moreover durability is also manifested in many different ways one and the same thing can be used in at various developmental stages. Multiple-use toys that grow with a kid such as building blocks for example may serve for working on eye-hand coordination, reaching and grasping, experimenting with size and shape on the early stages of child growth. Whereas on the later ones they turn into good helpers in harnessing fine and gross motor skills as well as in boosting kids’ creativity and imagination while they work on constructing a new form.
Will it be still interesting in one month?
The next aspect that makes a toy a good choice for your children may seem a little bit straightforward and somewhat obvious but we still consider it necessary to comment on. The point is that a toy is supposed to be interesting to your little dearies as simple as it may sound. The tricky moment is that a toy should continue sparking the same interest and inspiration throughout months and probably even years after the day the kid got to play with it for the first time. Toys that take charge of the play situation and deny the growing human being the chance to direct the action, be imaginative and creative will eventually stop attracting him or her. Therefore what child development experts recommend is to look for playthings that help to practice new skills and encourage independent exploration as well as persistent problem solving.
To develop this point even further, it seems worthwhile to mention a serious problem modern children are exposed to in an electronic age we live in nowadays. The problem we are referring to is the over presence of all kinds of gadgets such as TV, tablets, smart phones and computers that catch children’s attention but do not contribute to imaginative thinking. On the one hand, those inventions are very useful as they occupy and entertain active children so parents can have some free time to relax and concentrate on other tasks. On the other hand, they do not require any active participation and thus promote a passive learning style which can be a serious obstacle in learning to think independently.
Moreover, electronic toys can also pose a danger to a kid’s attention span and focus. Linda Crowe, PhD, a professor in the Communication Sciences and Disorders Program at Kansas State University reckons that TVs and other similar gadgets “that have flashing lights and constant changes and movement don't require a child to pay attention to any one thing for very long. Kids who use these toys frequently can find it difficult to focus on something like a book or non-moving toy."
Nevertheless, to try cutting any contacts between the younger generation and modern technology would be a utopia. The idea is to control and limit the time children spend in front of all these modern electronic devices that have such a strong impact on their mind.
On the contrary, educational toys such as stacking blocks and puzzles require a child’s active participation. The construction set provides a little one with a number of shapes: triangles, trapezoids, squares, wheels and many more to improvise with and express their creativity. It does not set any limits to their imagination and can also be a good inspiration material for story telling practice. Parents can ask children to comment and express in words what they are doing and invent a certain story behind the form they have constructed. Additionally, construction blocks are a great instrument for creating new toys as they allow to make durable masterpieces that can be used as a complete separate plaything. Then when the kid gets bored playing with it and their mind asks for something new, he or she can freely demolish it and construct another structure.
Can I share the play time?
Let’s get back to our list of important features a good toy is supposed to have and keep exploring them. Another crucial moment to be singled out is the cross-generational nature of some toys. Adult participation is advantageous for children because they learn an adult way of seeing things and reacting to them. Adults can benefit playtime to explain certain rules and behavior patterns while the younger ones profit from active language practice. But cross-generational does not necessarily mean exclusively games between adults and children but also games between children of different age groups. Toys that permit for this kind of activity contribute to the development of social skills, teach frustration tolerance and cooperation with others. Relationship-building and problem resolving skills gained in these activities will be essential for the later adult life. Besides, it goes without saying that sometimes children are more willing to learn from other children than from adults. When an adult’s comment, opinion or help can be at times perceived as old-fashioned or intrusive, the actions and way of thinking of another older child have more authority and weight for a younger one. That all contributes to a better mutually beneficial cross-generational communication and interchange.
What is better for his age?
The last point of our list of important for consideration toy’s features will be age appropriateness. It is obvious that a kid has different needs and interests at every stage of his or her development. Thus toys children play with are expected to answer the appeals of their respective age group.
- Babies and toddlers up to 1 year are only starting to explore the fascinating world, they are amazed at movements, sounds, simple black and white visuals. They learn to use their senses so their range of activities is limited to simple touching, squeezing, smelling, hearing, seeing, pushing and pulling objects, stacking or pouring. That’s why the most appropriate toys for this age group will be brightly colored, unbreakable, easily washed, producing squeaking or rattling noise toys such as mobiles, rattles, busy boxes etc. It is important to understand that any objects with small easily detachable parts, sharp edges, with long chords or balloons may constitute a threat to these little ones.
- Preschool children start to analyze the consequences of their actions, they try to foresee results, build a logical link between two happenings and thus learn to take deliberate actions to achieve a certain goal. This is also the age when they experiment size, color, shape and space. These kids enjoy painting, drawing and playing ‘let’s pretend’. In other words, they turn from simple observers into active creators. Therefore, the best decision you could make is to get them dress-up clothing, musical and creative toys, dolls, kitchen sets, simple board games, large crayons, brightly colored books, puzzles and certainly building blocks. At the same time it is better to avoid electrical and lead toys and the ones with sharp edges or small removable parts.
- Early school age is the time of active games when many children focus on their favorite physical activity, start collections or hobbies. They learn reading and writing skills and how to make use of them. Moreover, children of this age play more with their peers and less with toys that they start to choose based on sex role stereotypes. Modeling clay, sports equipment, battery powered electrical toys, board games, science and craft kits, work bench with tools, puppets, doll house and furniture, construction blocks will become the best gift for an early schooler. Fireworks, shooting toys, cap guns, flammable and toxic materials and aluminized polyester film made kites are better to be avoided.
To conclude, the question how to choose the right toy for your child is a very complex one that has many variables. The general advice that can be given here is to listen to your child and to your parental instinct and also keep reading our blog;) There are more interesting posts to come.