Many parents are choosing gifts for their kids this time of year. Are you wondering what to get your little one? Here are some tips for choosing toys that can make play more rewarding and better for your child’s development.
First, in the Land of Toys, less is almost always more. The less the toy does, the more a child can do with it. Have you ever noticed how hard it is to play with children when they have a phone or tablet in their hands? Toys with batteries, lights, music, and software do a lot for children, leaving the little ones passively pushing buttons. Toys that require your child to do most of the “work” inspire creativity, problem solving, movement, sensory experiences, and most importantly, social interaction.
Here are my top six toy categories for young children:
- Sensory exploration toys are materials that provide kids with rich experiences for their seven senses (vision, taste, touch, smell, hearing, vestibular, and proprioception.) Examples include Play-Doh, Kinetic Sand, a water table, finger paints, bubbles, musical instruments, mirrors, Chewbeads, a Sit-n-Spin, a swing, or even plain dry beans in a plastic container.
- Large movement toys engage kids’ large muscle groups and help them get strong and get their energy out! Consider toys like playground balls or giant exercise balls, big toy trucks, bowling sets, push toys like grocery carts or doll strollers, ride-on toys with or without pedals, pop beads, slides, bean bags, or a giant cardboard box!
- Fine movement toys help children practice smaller and more precise movements and hand-eye coordination. Toys good for fine motor include little cars and trains, stacking and nesting cups, Duplo or Mega Blocks, shape sorters, Mr. Potato Head, puzzles, and train tracks.
- Interactive toys require a bit of pretend and encourage more language and social skill building. Toys in other categories can be used in this way, but some are naturally made for social play schemes, such as a barn or farm set, plastic dinosaurs, action figures, Little People, play food, a toy car wash/garage, or a doll house.
- Early literacy toys help young children develop pre-reading and writing skills. Think about magnetic doodle-boards, coloring books, crayons and markers, magnet letter sets, and yes, of course, books, or even home-made photo books!
- Role-playing toys encourage classic pre-school imaginary play with things like doctor kits, dress-up clothes and hats, baby dolls and nurture sets, play kitchens, tea sets, tool boxes and benches, shopping carts, and house-cleaning sets.
Over time, try to provide a little something from each category for your child!
Second, what matters more than what toys you provide for your child is what you and your child do with those toys. We can’t expect children to know how to play with something before we teach them how to play with it. The good news is that teaching kids to play with toys is fun. Get right next to them and show them. Do it with them. Try doing what your kid is doing and then expanding the play into something you want to do. Playing with your child is the best gift you can give.