Tuesday, April 10, 2012

What are the best toys for young children?

I love seeking out the best toys and games for my children. I used to find it overwhelming, which is not surprising given the thousands of choices that are out there!  However, once I started to learn more about the way children learn, my options became more limited, and the process became more fun because I knew what skills I would be fostering with each purchase. 

In her book Your Child's Growing Mind, Healy gives some good guidelines for finding the best toys for children ages 2-7.  She states that a toy should "encourage the child to manipulate, interact, or figure something out."  If there is only one "right" way to play with a toy, or if a toy tries to teach routine academic skills, opportunities for exploration and discovery are limited.  She suggests simple, open ended toys such as:

Toys that develop fine motor control and sequencing: (which is related to later attention and self-control skills, handwriting, and proficiency in the arts)
-Household objects like tools, kitchen gadgets, and cooking utensils
-Nesting and stacking toys, containers for dumping and pouring
-Art materials
-Stringing and sorting materials (these require active handling and teach relationships like top, middle, bottom or small, bigger, biggest)
-Wooden unit blocks in graduated sizes and shapes

Toys for pretend:
- dress-up clothes
- dolls and puppets
- small figurines
- pretend tools , utensils

Toys for movement:
- things to safely climb in, on, or through
- toys for throwing and catching
- toys for balancing or spinning

Board and card games. Healy state that the biggest indicator of math success in first grade is how many board and card games a child's parent has played with them.

I find it somewhat ironic that all those electronic toys that, as parents, we often despise for their annoying noises and expensive batteries are also the ones that have virtually no benefits for children.  I've found that most toys labeled "educational" for children under 6 are actually not developmentally appropriate ways for them to learn!  I actually feel kind of "duped" by our consumer culture.  I bought the Baby Einstein DVDs, the Leap Frog electronic learning games, the pre-school workbooks - all because they were marketed to me as "educational."  I thought I was helping my son learn, but mostly I think I was just giving my money to toy companies.  

Now, I have the pleasure of buying beautiful, sometimes hand-made toys that my children get hours of enjoyment out of, and that I like to hold and look at myself.  They are learning with these toys and they don't even know it.

Here are some links to a just a few toys that I have purchased (or received as gifts) for my boys that both they and I really enjoy:

handmade wood building blocks: http://www.etsy.com/transaction/69566794

lacing beads: http://www.amazon.com/Melissa-Doug-Deluxe-Wooden-27-Piece/dp/B000GIJ4Y4/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1334003738&sr=8-2 

crawl tunnel: http://www.amazon.com/Melissa-Doug-Happy-Giddy-Tunnel/dp/B0032MYYBE/ref=sr_1_1?s=toys-and-games&ie=UTF8&qid=1334077449&sr=1-1

block crayons: http://www.amazon.com/Stockmar-Beeswax-Block-Crayons-Set/dp/B001JE3RXI/ref=sr_1_1?s=toys-and-games&ie=UTF8&qid=1334078555&sr=1-1

cooperative board game: http://www.amazon.com/Cooperative-Nature-Observation-Strategy-Woods/dp/B000E0DJGS/ref=sr_1_3?s=toys-and-games&ie=UTF8&qid=1334077556&sr=1-3


card game:http://www.amazon.com/Eric-Carle-Very-Hungry-Caterpilar/dp/B000RPH89O/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&qid=1334078497&sr=8-4

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