More than ever, parents are faced with a dilemma when purchasing toys for their children: Should they buy what their children really long for? Or should they buy a good, educational toy they choose on their child’s behalf?
In our society, children are constantly bombarded with advertisements promoting toys often designed to break within a few months, or be replaced by their own “newer” versions. The toys your children want are not necessarily the ones that are of great quality or of any value for that matter, but they are the ones advertised constantly, and the ones all their friends own at school: the “cool” toys.
Often, however, when children get these toys, they fail to play with them. The problem is that, if you observe closely, there is not much that they can do with the toy. It does not inspire the child’s imagination, or any other skills for that matter.
Look at what you are going to buy and, before you decide, ask yourself: How can my child play with this toy? What does it do? What skills does it promote? If you have good answers for those questions, chances are you are in the right path.
Here are a few factors to consider before approaching the check out counter this holiday season:
A child’s brain is most influential before the age of six. Babies are developing their sense of sound, sight, and touch, and familiarizing themselves with the world that surrounds them. Toys that assist in hand-eye coordination, visual skills, or any of their senses are a good choice. Look for toys with bright, attractive colors or patterns, mirrored or reflective surfaces, varied textures, and safe to mouth (meaning easy to wash!). Toys they can pull, chew, discover, hear, grab, and get a sound out of are some good choices. Lamaze has some good choices for young babies, but there are many exciting choices in the market. I also recommend soft blocks and cars, rattles, and washable books.
Toddlers are in a stage of exploration and are finding their independence. They are developing their motor skills and using their imagination. Ride-ons or anything that can be pushed or pulled are great choices. Even better if they have elements of everyday life that they can use to pretend-play, such as lawnmowers, grocery carts or dolls and strollers. These toys are also great for early walkers. Toys they can use in the sand or water are not only great but also necessary for their development. Non-toxic finger paint and shape sorters or puzzles are also perfect for their budding imaginations. You will find, however, that some of their favorite things to play with will be right in your kitchen!
Preschoolers are jumping, running, and interested in so many things! Good toys will challenge them and engage their imagination and reasoning skills. Vehicles and bikes are great for gross motor skills, while puzzles, building toys such as Lego®, Brio trains and tracks, and art supplies develop their fine motor skills (and their imagination and reasoning skills). Realistic dolls and house furniture and accessories of any size are great for role-playing and imagination as well. Science kits are amazing for this age group, and books and toys that help them learn to read.
Young children have well-established social skills and love to play in groups even more than they did before. Board games and group games are a great choice for this age group, as are art supplies and crafts projects, as well as more complex building sets and science kits. Books they can read on their own are a wonderful gift, and magic kits or circus-type toys promote better motor skills. I love to encourage outdoor toys for this age group as well, such as skates, basketball, jump-ropes and Chinese elastics, ping-pong, badminton, or anything that will promote healthy outdoor play and invite new friendships.
Tweens and Teens are the age group that people struggle the most with. I have one at home and, personally, I find this age group fascinating! As veteran toy consumers, they are hard to impress. Often, the only toys they gravitate towards are video games. However, this is the perfect age to introduce them to some of the things you still like to play with as an adult! Our son loves to make animation movies. He inherited one of our cameras, and we bought him a computer and some plasticine. He also invites his friends over and together, they make movies which they later can post on YouTube. Choose things that will give your child a great sense of accomplishment, and engage them to the fullest. Other choices can be a real instrument and some lessons or a painting kit. Knitting or sewing projects (even a simple sewing machine), woodworking, clay, an easel, a pet they always wanted — the possibilities are endless. Look for toys that show you trust them and believe in them, and you can affect them for life!
While anticipation of a gleeful smile and wish fulfilled should, of course, play into your purchasing decisions, what you put under the tree can have a lasting impression on your child. A little research combined with a lot of love will ensure your child has an extraordinary Christmas with benefits that last far beyond the holiday season.
Natacha V. Beim is a renowned writer, speaker, educational leader, and founder and CEO of Core Education & Fine Arts. Born in Uruguay and raised in Montréal, Canada, she has traveled extensively and studied educational systems around the world. As a pioneer in the field of modern education, Beim continually pursues studies in the field developmental psychology focusing on the early years. Visit www.cefa.ca for more information.