For a newborn, the whole world is a mystery and there is so much to learn. The good news is that children are extremely fast learners and they gain new information using all of their senses. The first months and years are crucial for the formation of knowledge and experience and our job as parents is to provide our children with the best way to learn and enjoy the process.
It is no secret that children learn best while playing. Educational toys are one of the best helpers when it comes to keeping your kid occupied while learning at the same time. These toys are developed according to the age of the children and help promote various skills starting from fine motoric skills to critical thinking.
There is a myriad of toys on the market and it is not possible to buy them all and in fact, it is not even necessary. In order to help your kid learn and develop while having fun, there are a few other tricks that can help. Spending quality time with them and giving them all of your attention is one of the ways to teach your kids about the world. Using simpler toys or everyday items to play with is also a way to develop their imagination and social skills. Here are a few ideas on how children learn and what kind of toys you can use to help them.
How children learn
One of the main reasons why children can learn so fast is hidden in the structure of their brain. We often say that infants are like a sponge and absorb everything from the surrounding world. This is due to the fact that the developing brain has no filter to irrelevant information and processes every information to form neural connections. Kids have much more neural connections than adults. With time, those connections which are irrelevant kind of disappear as they are not used.
On the other hand, some of the synapses – these connections between the neurons, which are used often develop further and strengthen to become more efficient. This is how the baby learns to crawl, walk, talk. This is due to the ability of the brain to change, a phenomenon called neuroplasticity. This process is particularly active in the younger age but still exists and is used when we get older.
As the child’s brain is more apt to quicker development and learning, it needs a lot of stimuli to strengthen and develop its full potential. Hence, there are various toys suitable for different ages that are meant to exactly stimulate their brain and help them develop the necessary physical and social skills needed further in life.
How to choose toys for different ages
Each toy comes with instructions on how to use it and which age it is suitable for. The age range is given there for a purpose. It suggests if there are small parts that can be inhaled or swallowed by kids or if it is any other risk. The age also suggests what are the skills that children are expected to master at that period of their development.
Still, each kid is different and has a different stage of development. You know better if your kid prefers to draw or build with blocks. While it is good to encourage other activities and offer options, it is not necessary to enforce games simply because they are considered suitable for a given age.
In order to have an idea of what type of toys you need for your child depending on their age, here is a short list with guidelines:
- Babies do not need a lot of toys and quite often an adult can be the best toy for them. In their first weeks and months, babies learn to recognize colors, sounds, shapes. Staring at your face and playing with you will be one of the best games. You can also use a brightly-colored wind-up toy that will catch their attention. If the toy plays gentle music that is a bonus. You can teach them to reach for their rattle to stimulate their motoric skills. Reading a book and imitating animal sounds is also a funny activity for infants.
- Toddlers are more active and love to play. Construction toys and blocks are a good suggestion. The crazy bricks are a great alternative as they stimulate logical thinking and problem-solving skills and foster imagination and creativity. Simple musical instruments are also a great option for a toddler. You can use a pot and wooden spoon for a drum as successfully as you would a purpose-built and purchased drum.
- Older children love drawing and playing with puzzles as well as solving problems. A wooden Tetris puzzle is a good brain teaser and will help children learn to focus, concentrate, and be more patient. It also stimulates math and analytical skills. It is also a good idea to invest in some family games where your kid plays with you or other friends together. Dress-ups and crafts continue to be great fun so you can keep encouraging your little engineers, designers, and inventors to keep up with the good ideas.
TIP: it is a good idea to present your kid with a new toy or game without any instructions how it is used. Let them have a look at it and suggest how they can play with it. This will help them think out of the box as well and may also give you some fresh ideas. Once the child tells you their variant of playing with the toy/game, you can tell them what the original usage is.
Open-ended toys for kids
Some of the good toys to use for your kids, regardless of their age, are the so-called open-ended toys. These are toys that can be used in many different ways and help your child develop their creativity. You will find that with this type of toys it is not necessary to buy a lot of items since every day your child has a different toy.
The open-ended toys encourage children to use their imagination and promote creativity and problem-solving skills. Open-ended toys can be toys that you have bought in the shop but also household items that you do not use anymore. One of the keys to help your children learn while playing is to let them get bored. You will find out that if they are not overwhelmed with TV, mobile devices and too many toys, kids can think of interesting ways to have fun with a simple item around them.
Here is an example of some open-ended toys that you can use for your kid’s play:
Blocks are one of the most popular toys that all kids love. They are suitable for different ages as they come in many forms and made of various materials. You can use softer ones for infants and plastic or wooden blocks for toddlers and bigger children. The kid can build with them, use them to learn colors, shapes or make pretend items of them – a block can serve as a phone to call their friends, for example.
Balls of various sizes are also very useful and practical toys. Children can squeeze, roll, and throw them. They can simply hold and look them at a younger age, especially if they have bright colors. Later on, balls are good for motoric skills as the kid can run after a ball, throw it or make it bounce from the floor or walls.
Cardboard boxes are one of the great open-ended toys that cost you almost nothing. Quite often, children are more fascinated in unwrapping a present than by the present itself. You can wrap an empty box and then think together what it can become – a house, a car, shop counter or oven. The possibilities to play with a cardboard box are limitless.
crayons, washable markers, stickers, colored paper are a great way to develop your kid’s imagination. You can give them a task to master something particular or let them surprise you by their creativity.
Clothes can be a fun way to become a princess, a hero or a lion from the zoo. Dress-ups help kids use their imagination and create funny costumes with some older clothes or pieces of fabrics that you no longer need.
The greatest benefit of open-ended toys is that they can be reused multiple times and quite often cost you almost nothing. Spending some time with your kids while playing with open-ended toys is a great way to build stronger bonds and set a good example.
Link toys with family values
Toys can be used to promote emotional intelligence as well. They can also be your ally in presenting your family values to your kids. You can teach your children that it is better to try and reuse items such as old clothes, cardboard boxes or cups as toys instead of always buying the latest hit on the market.
If you want to be more environmentally-friendly, you can choose wooden over plastic toys whenever possible. You can also teach your children to throw their toys separately so that they can be recycled.
Using toys, you can present the different roles of adults in society – e.g. the teachers and their roles. You can teach children to treat others with respect by showing respect to their toys – keeping them clean, putting them back after the play, etc.
You can donate unused clothes or toys and make your kids active participants in the process. Thus, they can learn to share and feel empathy.
Educational toys and their significance
While each toy helps your child have fun and learn new things, there are certain toys designed with educational purposes. These toys aim at developing certain skills and are designed with the kid’s age in mind.
A great example is the Montessori Shoelace Tying Learner, which helps your kids learn to tie their shoes. Thew toy has a specific purpose and is a Montessori Teaching aid suitable for kids aged 2 to 8. This type of toys takes into account the abilities of the kid and aim to facilitate further their motoric development. With such an educational toy, the kid learns without even realizing it. It is a fun activity that comes without stress and makes learning happen quite naturally.
Other toys as the Time Teaching Clock mimic an actual object but provide the child with a safe option to experiment and learn. As a parent, you are not concerned that it may break and hurt your kid. Kids, on the other hand, are happy to play with a real object and learn a skill that makes them “useful” in the household.
There is also another type of educational toys that teach children not only vital skills but also scientific facts like the Solar Powered Education Toys – DIY for kids. The toy not only stimulates creative and fosters engineering skills but teaches kids about solar energy and its benefits.
As a whole, educational toys stimulate cognitive, physical, and emotional development and are an essential part of kids’ growth. If you want to have broader access to such toys, you can exchange them with friends and relatives or use toy libraries for a greater variety and fewer constraints on your budget.
Toys can be your friend or foe – it is up to you how to use them. If you simply invest in purchasing too many toys with the aim just to keep your kids occupied, they won’t have such a great positive effect. It is better to spend more for a high-quality toy and invest more of your time to play with your children instead of letting the digital babysitter (TV, tablet, smartphones) entertain them. Use toys smartly to share your values with your growing kids and to give them the knowledge and skills necessary for their well-being later in life.