If your kids are like mine, they pretty much want everything they see advertised on television. Barbie house? Want it. Flubber? Need it. Singing troll? Got to have it.
You, though, aren’t an ATM. There’s only so much money and you want to make sure you choose the right toys. Toys that will educate your kid, and toys that won’t be cast aside after just a few playdates.
Need a little help? Here are a few tips on how to find the right educational toy for your child.
Reconsider the Electronics
Your child can learn a lot from electronics. In fact, I mentioned in a previous post that I really want my kids to learn to code. It’s hard to do that without access to a tablet, computer or another device.
But I also want them to learn to read well. And to be able to solve basic math equations. Social skills. You get the idea – I want well rounded kids who aren’t glued to electronics all day.
Kids learn very well with low-tech toys. And, despite what the TV ads might have you to believe, there are plenty of educational toys on the market that don’t require batteries.
One of my favorite toys for kids is called a Bilibo. It’s nothing but an oddly shaped plastic “bowl,” around a foot and a half in diameter. We’d originally bought it for my daughter when she was just one. She’s three now, and since then it’s served as a hat, a mask, a sled and a boat.
It’s toys like this that are essential to developing your kids’ brains. Manipulation of objects, problem solving and even social skills are developed when your kids play with low-tech toys.
Need a few other ideas? Try finger puppets for the younger crowd. Babies and toddlers love little plush finger toys, and they’re also a great way to establish early communication skills.
Something as simple as a slingshot for the older crew is actually educational. Don’t understand how? Shooting a slingshot is all about physics and geometry, guys!
No matter what you choose, it’s hard to go wrong with a low tech toy.
Encourage Outdoor Play
There’s so much for a kid to learn outside. There are bugs out there, Mom! There are rainbows, Dad! And there are tons of ways you can incorporate learning into your child’s outdoor play.
For 11 years now, I’ve ordered bugs online. Sound crazy? It’s really not! There are sites online which allow you to purchase caterpillars which hatch into butterflies. Or eggs that become ladybugs or praying mantises.
My kids learn oodles just by growing (and releasing) these buggies. If you go this route, make sure the insects are native to your area.
Bugs aren’t your thing? You’ve got other options. Set your kids up with pretty much any sport. Soccer, hockey and baseball will help to educate your babies about physics, social skills and more. All while getting the wiggles out!
Know what else is pretty darn educational? Gardening. Take your kids to the store and let them choose some seeds. Teach them about the “planting zones” – you wouldn’t want to plant avocado in Connecticut.
Then, set them loose in the gardening section. Let them choose pint-sized garden toys.
Keep Toys Age-Appropriate
You wouldn’t give a set of marbles to a baby. You also wouldn’t give a tricycle to an eight year old. This is pretty much common sense. When you’re choosing educational toys for your child, be sure to keep them age-appropriate.
Need a little help? Here’s a rough guide to what’s appropriate, by age.
Babies are developing their five senses. Toys with contrasting colors are excellent, as are toys which make sound when manipulated. (Think rattles and musical instruments.) But remember – that means they like to taste, too. Be sure the toys aren’t a choking hazard.
Toddlers are constantly on the move. From age 1 to about 3, kids just refuse to sit down. Choose “action toys,” like bubble lawn mowers and even ride on toys. For indoor play, non-toxic art supplies are a great way to explore the world.
Preschool aged kids are sometimes called pre-readers. Although, you may have a child who’s already reading by the age of three or four. Toys which inspire reading are a great choice. Early tech skills are also developed at this age, so LeapPads and other toys are age-appropriate. And blocks. You can never go wrong with blocks.
Early elementary school kids have legitimate friends, as opposed to little people they just happen to play near. But they may need a little bit of help to develop their social skills. Sports equipment, board games and even some dolls are appropriate for this age.
Tweens definitely have their own preferences. Your kid may be a science whiz or a musical prodigy. Choose toys which foster his talents, but don’t be afraid to encourage your kid to step outside his comfort zone. How about a basketball hoop for your mathlete? It may turn out to be her favorite toy!
Keep Toys Kid-Appropriate
Those are just general guidelines. You know your kid best. Does your kid have special needs, and prefer more sensory type activities? He’ll still learn from gel mazes and tactile pads.
Is she introverted? Don’t feel the need to buy her board games and social toys. She’ll certainly learn from them, but she can learn just as much from a new cooking set or a model airplane kit.
Keep your kid’s interests in mind, while encouraging him to expand his horizons. Kids learn through play. It’s through play that they’ll develop motor skills, social skills, literacy and math comprehension. You really can’t go wrong, no matter what you choose.
Use your imagination and choose a toy that speaks to your child. Don’t cater to the whims of your kid when he watches a television ad! And, if all else fails, there’s absolutely no harm in sitting your child down with a book.