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We all can recall our childhood play and the cherished experiences we still hold on to including those shared with our favorite toy. Play is spontaneous, freely chosen and a joyous engagement of children. Experts attest children develop social, emotional, physical, and cognitive skills through play. Play also inspires imagination, investigation and invention; helps children to express and experience positive emotions and control negative ones. Children interact with and transform play settings in myriad ways to enhance their play. This includes transforming objects into desired play tools to enhance play experiences. Toys are tools, artifacts, objects and or instruments children use in play. Educational toys are tools children use in play to enhance social, emotional, physical, and cognitive skills and harness intellectual fluency. Parents, families and teachers need to know the facts about choosing educational toys for children to match their interests, desires and developmental needs.
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Why choose Toys?
Toys are children’s tools. They are usually given to children to promote happiness and fun which are experiences children derived through play. Toys also promote comfort, stimulate imagination, investigation and innovation. Characteristics such as age, child’s developmental level, child’s preferences, interests, quality of play, skills and concepts to be learnt affect the choice of toys chosen for children. Teachers and parents should acquire as much information as possible about these characteristics in order to choose the best educational toys to support children’s play and development.
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Critical 21st Century Skills – The dawn of the 21st century brings much information through research to aid parents and teachers in identifying the skills needed to contribute to the progress of society. This factor cannot be ignored in making decisions for the younger generation and this includes all media and platforms for learning whether formal or informal. Some salient skills for the 21st century and beyond needed for children to function as active citizens include: problem solving, meta- cognitive skills, executive function, social skills, communication, innovation, creative thinking, numeracy, language and literacy. These skills are the driving factors to support science, technology engineering and math and should form the premise for choosing educational toys for children.
HearthSong has a wide collection of STEM toys for children of all ages for choosing click link below to view.
STEM Toys are Designed to be Fun & Educations for All Kids at HearthSong!
You can acquire more insights by reading:
The facts on STEM Education for Preschoolers
How to Use LEGO to Build STEM Awareness
LEGO Interactive Bricks and Math Learning
How to Choose Toys?
Durability and safety – the physical make of the toy needs to be lasting so attention must be paid to quality of materials. Not only quality but also safety. Material need to be non -toxic and look out for too smaller pieces which can cause choking. All manufacturers have to abide by safety standards and regulations therefore hazards are displayed along with age recommendations on toys. It is important for children’s safety that these recommendations are adhere to.
Support interests – by observing your child you can see what are your child’s interests or preferences. This is very important when choosing as children are more likely to engage with toys they have interest in therefore this will support learning. Some children show color preferences as well. Colors stimulate brain activity and emotions children tend to show preferences for bright colors.
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Complexity based on age and or development – choose toys that can support child’s current development as well as can scaffold the child. This means the child will have interest in acquiring advanced level skills and will lessen boredom. Since children learn through the senses, educational toys providing multi sensory experiences are considered good choices.
Melissa & Doug Shape sorting clock-
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Types of Educational Toys
Interactive toys– This category covers a wide range of toys to choose from. Toys in this group allow for sensory experiences best when multi-sensory. Children can learn basic cause-and-effect relationships from playing with some interactive toys, even if they know little about what makes the toy function. Cause and effect stimulate thinking and reasoning. Toys in this category also includes technological or computerized ones equipped with microchips have the capability to respond to input and produce outputs. Interactive toys are great for motor development, problem solving, trial and error in learning, discoveries, investigations, teaching numeracy, literacy and scientific facts. Recommended for you:
LEGO BOOST Creative Toolbox – click to purchase
Goobi Jr. Magnetic Construction Set Hearth Song- click to purchase
Imagination and pretend play– This is the joy of play when children can immerse themselves into play and be what they want to be changing roles and having the tools to carry out their roles. Much creativity, imagination, pretending and pure fun and enjoyment are involved here. Choose toys to give children these experiences. There are wide range of play tools or kits to choose from. Some of these includes kitchen set, food set, friendship bus and just about any experience you want your child to have LEGO, Melissa & Doug and Hearth Song will take your child there. Recommended for you:
LEGO Food Accessories– click to purchase
Chef Kitchen Cupcake -Melissa & Doug- click to purchase
With all the benefits educational toys provide for children, they should never be a substitute for real time parental engagement with children. One of the best ways toys can be even more engaging is for parents to take the time to interact with children at some point in play. This is not to dictate play but more like giving support. Some ways parents can do this is by allowing your child to do show and tell. Especially when a new discovery is made children like to share. Parents are not to be too busy for this special moment. Celebrate it with your child.
Another way include scaffolding your child, that is, to assist your child to move to a higher level of learning and or doing relating to concepts and or skills. So for example, if you have an add and subtract abacus your child will move from adding single digits to double digits. By observing your child you will know when your child has achieved proficiency in doing addition using single digits. You now need to engage your child to move to the next level of adding using double digits.
Giving high five, thumbs up, the hugs, praises and the power words such as awesome, super and excellent. Telling your child I am so proud of you, work wonders and support learning. Support children when they cry or come to you with a challenge “I can’t get my toy to work this way.” You gentle respond, “Ok let me see how we can fix this together.’
Play is spontaneous, freely chosen and joyous engagement of children. Play also inspires imagination, investigation and invention. Educational toys are tools children use in play to enhance social, emotional, physical, and cognitive skills and harness intellectual fluency. Characteristics such as age, child’s developmental level, child’s preferences, interests, quality of play, skills and concepts to be learnt affect the choice of toys chosen for children. With all the benefits educational toys provide for children, they should never be a substitute for real time parental engagement with children.
This post was especially written for parents, families and teachers to support children’s development through play. I hope after reading you are better able to choose educational toys to support children’s learning and development. Please feel free to leave your opinions, ideas, comments, and questions relating to this post. I am more than happy to respond to you in a timely manner. I welcome you sharing your child’s play experiences using educational toys. Thank you and have fun engaging your children!
Tracy-Ann Morgan-Smith, PhD, JP