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Why Toys Are Important for Child Development

Play and toys support child development. Playing  is what children do. Toys are their tools. When adults shop for tools, quality counts. We want safe ones that work well and enable us to do our best. We look for thoughtfully designed, well-made, sturdy, built-to-last products that we’ll enjoy using over and over again. All this, and more, holds true for toys.

Here’s what I have learned. Play is essential. Quality developmental toys support skill- building and, thereby, enhance play. Consequently children flourish. So what does that mean?

Safety Matters

Safety matters. Sound construction is a must. But that’s not the whole picture. The developmental age of the child matters too. Safety is a collaborative effort. Even the safest toys require adult supervision.

Manufacturers are required to label products that pose a chocking hazard. The most common reads  WARNING: CHOKING HAZARD – Small parts. Not for children under 3 years old. That’s one of six. The others apply to a toy that is or contains a small ball or a marble or, likely the most serious hazard, contains magnets.

Yet another warns that children under 8 years of age can choke or suffocate on un-inflated or broken balloons. That Children with balloons require adult supervision. Safety warnings alert us to hazards. Beyond that we must take into account where our children are developmentally. We do well to remember that some need more time to grow out of the habit of putting everything in the mouth. No blame, no shame. Every child develops at his or her own pace. 

Thoughtful Design and Careful Construction

Thoughtful design and careful construction are hallmarks of the best tools for  play. First and foremost these attributes reflect an understanding of child development and an appreciation of how children acquire skills while playing.

When a toy is well-made, it is not only safe, but also satisfying. It works as intended. That’s important. Just as we want our tools to perform well, children want their toys to meet their expectations. Otherwise play becomes frustrating, and the toy is cast aside.

Building Beakers

ten graduated cups for nesting and stacking

Let’s look at two toys that exemplify top-notch design and construction. These are Building Beakers and Lock a Block. Made by Ambi, both are classic early childhood toys that engage infants and toddlers in skill-building play. Moreover both are toys that support child development.

The manufacturer recommends Building Beakers beginning at 10 months old. A true developmental toy, these cups offer new ways to play as the child develops new skills. At first, I suggest offering only the smallest and the largest cups. That invites putting one inside the other, turning the larger cup upside down and watching the smaller one fall out. That’s filling and spilling, an activity the toddler will repeat over and over again.

What’s happening here? The child is experimenting. Observing when-I-do-this-that-happens. Confirming the cause and effect through repetition. Developing fine motor skills: grasp and release  while filling and wrist rotation as the child spills. When we offer words to describe such attributes as color and size of the cups, we’re encouraging language development.

Features  Make A Difference

Rolled Rims

Rolled rims are an important feature of Ambi Building Beakers. On the one hand, they make separating nested cups easier. On the other, stacking becomes more successful. When a toddler is learning to stack, eye-hand coordination, grasp and release, and dexterity are only beginning to develop. Obviously stacking is challenging. Quite often the adjacent block slides off as the child attempts to place another on top of it. The rim helps hold the beakers together and makes the stack more stable.

Raised Patterns

Each cup also features a unique raised pattern on its base. These invite both visual and tactile exploration. Pressing the cups into sand, play dough or clay creates patterns and encourages creative expression. Furthermore recognizing patterns is a pre-reading skill.


Sand and water provide further opportunities for play. In the sand, the cups become molds. Two pinholes in the bottom of each beaker add another dimension to water play. The graduated sizes allow young children to explore how the cups are alike and different. All the beakers are round, but each is a different size. Small or large or big or little, short or tall. These are important math concepts learned through play. 

Lock a Block

shape sorter toy with lock and key

Lock a Block – an inclusive toy, if ever there was one – is my favorite shape sorting toy. Because all children like saying, “I did it.”  Note the high contrast between the bright white top and the color matched raised rims outlining each opening. That makes “hitting the target” easier. Dropping a shape into its slot not only requires shape discrimination. It also takes eye-hand coordination and the ability to grasp and release the shape. Developing fine motor skills takes practice. Success motivates.  Lock a Block is a must for the blind and visually impaired. As well as for those with fine motor challenges.

Furthermore, three dimensional shapes drop more easily into place than shaped dowel pieces that require precise fitting. Again motivating the repetition that leads to skill-building. This shape sorter toy includes two each of three shapes, a plus that encourages one to one matching games. Furthermore naming the colors and shapes encourages cognitive and language development.

In First, Then Out

Retrieve shapes through a door on the front of the box. Permanently attached key fits smoothly in the lock and turns easily. As the key turns, the lock clicks. Following the sequence of steps required to get the shapes out involves problem solving, memory, and concentration. Eye-hand coordination, grasp and release, and wrist rotation  increase with each repetition.

Thoughtful design makes toys adaptable and versatile. More inclusive and engaging. Children naturally enjoy playing with toys that  work well. A delighted “I did it!” not only announces success but also shares the joy of achieving a goal. As they play, children build competence and confidence. Through play, children acquire the skills they need to reach their fullest potential. Toys support child development by enhancing play.

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Why I Avoid Licensed Products

architectural building set fosters creativity

Babies As Billboards

Here we are 17 years into the 21st century. The only constant is change and that comes at an increasingly maddening speed. Since becoming a grandmother a year ago, I’ve discovered that almost every aspect of “bringing up baby” is different now. What distresses me most is the proliferation of branded products for young children. Customers pay a premium for these products, merchandise that promotes brand identity. The beneficiaries of branded products are companies, not those buying the products.

Leading brands of disposable diapers feature licensed characters. Babies become billboards, re-enforcing brand identity, advertising specific products. Do we really want babies commercialized in this way? I don’t. Fortunately non-licensed brands of equal quality and at lower prices exist for those of us who prefer diapers advertisement free.

Once Upon A Time Before Widespread Licensing of Toys

Toys have suffered a similar fate. Once upon a time, Lego designed products for unscripted, open-ended play with themes reflecting general interests of its audience. Never miss open house at the neighborhood fire station? Select from individual fire trucks to a fully equipped fire station. Although designed for building specific play props, bricks used to build a fire station could also be used to craft something altogether different. Build a cityscape complete with streets and vehicles, even an airport, design and build skyscrapers, housing, school, and parks. Add a neighborhood landmark. Children built whatever came to mind and created their own story lines as they played.

Sets included diagrams for building the item pictured on the box, and that was what children usually built first. Gradually the pieces from one set joined those from others to form a sea of multiple and varied building components which served as a catalyst for open-ended, creative play. The search for just the right piece sharpened visual discrimination.

Licensed Products Script Play

Now Lego holds numerous licenses, and play is more apt to reflect related story lines than to evolve from the imagination of children. The toy comes with a script. Yes, the child is free to adapt the toy to fit other narratives, yet by its nature a licensed product limits creativity. Using his imagination to spin his own yarns is more creative than following a script.

How Non-licensed Toys Benefit Children

Toys that invite children to “put on their thinking caps” and engage in a process of experimentation, discovery, and problem-solving allow children to follow their muse and reap the rewards. They gain competence and confidence as they acquire and refine skills in comprehension, language, and mathematics, eye-hand coordination, fine motor control, and spatial awareness. Creativity, executive planning, and problem-solving blossom as children design and construct ever more advanced structures.

Texo = Open-Ended Building

While numerous open-ended design and construction toys are available, a particularly versatile one is Texo, an award-winning 3-dimensional building system from architect, author, and designer Lester Walker. This building system allows children to progress gradually from basic color and shape sorting, matching, and identification to simple puzzles and stacking of interconnected shapes and finally to advanced architectural models. Plastic rods and solid wood planks coupled with the geometric precision of molded plastic connectors enhance the design and construction potential. Imagination dictates what gets built. And creativity blossoms.

In the forward to the activity guide accompanying Texo, Walker shares his vision. Form and function are the foundations of architecture and design. Children learn at an early age about these principles through playing with blocks and construction toys and through their natural curiosity which leads them to explore, replicate and shape their environment. Texo – which is Latin for weave, twine together, plait, construct, build – is a toy I’ve designed to help children gain a richer understanding of form and function through a scaleable toy, one that at its most basic level is about stacking, sorting and sequencing, and grows in its complexity as a child grows, becoming something they can use to explore principles of architecture, design and engineering. Enjoy!

Play is, by definition, an enjoyable experience. Freed from scripts, children create their own as they explore possibilities. Providing the children in our lives with ample opportunities for open-ended play and watching them flourish benefits and delights both sides of the equation.

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How to Choose The Best Toy

Looking for the Best Toy?

 Customers sometimes ask me to recommend the best toy for their child or grandchild, particularly if the child has a special need. Many begin the conversation by sharing a diagnosis. While valuable, this information only addresses one aspect of who the child is. To answer the question, we need to think beyond gender, age, development, or disability. That’s because we all have preferences, and those make all the difference.

We Buy What Appeals to Us

 Just think about ourselves. When we’re shopping, we bring our preferences with us. Think about a sweater. I might find one that seems perfect in every way, except one. The fiber, style, and fit are exquisite. The price, the lowest it’s ever been. The only drawback is the color. It’s a lovely color and the height of fashion, but it isn’t one that makes me look my best. Perhaps I could convince myself it’s not all that bad. In fact, it has much to offer, considering the price. Who doesn’t appreciate a bargain?  And it will keep me warm. That’s the main reason for buying a sweater, right? Yes, but… And here’s the reality in that three letter word. I’d end up not wearing that sweater, except if I was freezing and had absolutely nothing else to keep me warm. What we buy has to appeal to us if we’re to use and enjoy our purchase.

Kids Choose Toys That Appeal to Their Sense of Play

 Children are the same. A toy has to appeal to a kid before she’ll give it her attention. Something about the toy has to invite play, and once the child begins playing, the toy has to prove its worth. The child decides if it merits her time, if the toy offers enough value to hold her interest. Young children like repetition. That’s how they develop skills. Their toys need to be safe, well constructed, and durable, able to stand up to persistent play. Being easy to clean counts too.

Kids Learn Through Play        Array of flannel covered crinkle paper for babies

 Kids also like to explore and discover. Through play, infants begin to understand cause and effect and learn about their environment. Small enough for tiny fingers to grasp, Baby Paper is made of soft flannel with an inner layer of crinkle fabric that makes the sound of paper being crumpled when touched. Babies typically find that appealing and repeat the action that produced the original sound, learning through repetition about cause and effect, about their ability to make something happen.

Observe Kids at Play Before Shopping For Toys

 We make our best decisions when we’ve observed the recipient at play and know her preferences. When choosing toys, select from those you think will appeal most to the child and mesh best with her current abilities, emerging skills, and developmental goals. This is true for all children, with or without special needs. Toys are tools for play. When a child finds a toy intriguing and engages in play, learning occurs naturally and joyfully.

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Artistry in Alphabet Blocks

Classic Early Childhood Play

What early childhood toy is more classic than wooden alphabet blocks? Long before they are ready to learn the letters and numbers on the blocks, children engage in block play. They “fill and spill”, dropping blocks into a container, then dumping them out, again and again. They arrange blocks into a row. Progress to stacking and knocking down. Incorporate blocks into their imaginative play.

Progressive Skill Building

Their play builds fine motor skills from grasp and release to eye-hand coordination and controlled placement required for stacking. Some alphabet blocks feature simple pictures that develop vocabulary when an adult or older child supply the name of the objects. Gradually the child will associate the word with the object and begin to identify the objects by name. Only later do children begin recognizing specific letters and numerals and later still that they combine letters to make words.
Wooden alphabet blocks come in many forms, from smooth cubes with printed letters to cubes with embossed letters on the ends and printed ones on the sides. On some the letters are carved. Blocks handmade from natural hardwood stand out. My favorite are made in the United States of sustainably harvested native hardwoods.

Alphabet Blocks in Multiple Languages

Uncle Goose in Grand Rapids, Michigan, hand makes alphabet blocks in 23 languages, from the most common to the esoteric. These 1 3/4 inch basswood cubes are true artisan blocks designed by creative artists and made by master craftspeople. Four smooth sides with vibrant graphic designs reflecting the culture of the language and two with deeply debossed letters make every set an invitation to cultural awareness.

Upper and Lower Case 

English alphabet blocks are available in both upper case and lower case sets. Children may learn lower case letters more quickly than upper case because the ascenders, as in b, d, h, and t, and descenders, as in g, j, p, q, and y, make the letters easier to identify. Capital letters, by contrast, lack such visual distinctiveness. While playing with alphabet blocks in both cases, children gradually develop an interest in identifying the letters, matching upper and lower case, arranging blocks in alphabetical order, and beginning to spell their names and other simple words.

Alphabet Blocks for Inclusion

Committed to inclusive play, Uncle Goose also offers alphabet and number blocks in Braille and Nemeth math code for the blind and alphabet blocks in ASL, American Sign Language. Indispensable to children who will be learning Braille, the blocks also introduce Braille to the sighted, making children more aware and socially competent. The same applies to children learning ASL. For hearing children, learning to sign the alphabet reenforces competency and bridges gaps between the hearing and the deaf.

 Visually Appealing

Uncle Goose alphabet blocks are visually appealing, whether artfully displayed on a table or waiting in a basket for someone to come along and explore the possibilities. Designed for children three years old and up, these exquisite blocks are made for play. Beautiful alphabet blocks encourage children and adults alike to play, arranging blocks, matching letters, spelling words, whatever brings joy. The time spent playing together fosters attachments and makes fond memories.
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Have An Oball, Baby!

Oball is another ball  that encourages grasping development. Variations offer different play experiences that infants and toddlers find engaging. Both are round, allowing babies to internalize the feeling of roundness. All roll, inviting visual tracking of an object in motion. What makes Oballs unique is the construction. These lightweight, hollow balls feature a surface of open circles, easy for fingers to explore and ultimately grasp.

The four inch Oball Rattle features four see-though disks containing brightly colored beads. Shaking the ball and seeing that the beads colliding against each other creates a sound is a powerful example of cause and effect. Often when a toy makes a sound in response to a baby’s action, the source of that sound cannot be seen. So the baby misses an opportunity to make a connection.


4-inch oballThe Oball  invites finger play that can become more complex as fine motor skills develop. When a child begins learning to bring thumb and adjacent finger together, a process known as pincer grasp, consider stuffing a lightweight, silky scarf inside an Oball and watch as baby explores and finds she can employ her new skill to pull the scarf out. When the silky scarf becomes too easy, replace with another more challenging fabric. Try a bandana. It’s also lightweight and thin but not likely to pull through as easily as silk. As long as the child enjoys the game, incremental challenges enhance not only fine motor development but also tactile discrimination.

Babies learn to grasp and let go as they approach their first birthday. Mastery of grasping and releasing takes practice. That’s why fill and spill games are such important skill builders. Infants and toddlers like to drop balls into a bowl or pail, box or basket, and then dump the container and repeat the process again and again and again. Developing the fine motor control and finger strength needed to latch on to and let go of an object takes practice.

 Lightweight, easy to grasp, crush, throw, catch, and chase, Oball supports early learning and skills development.      

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Have A Ball, Baby!

Here’s a challenge for you. Name one toy that, in one form or another, appeals to infants, toddlers, preschoolers, the school-aged, adolescents, and adults. Here’s a hint. Although available in a multitude of shapes, sizes, materials, and weights, the first one you encountered in life was likely round and lightweight.

The answer, of course, is balls. There’s a ball for everyone. Typically ones for newborns are fabric and feature bright colors, simple, high contrast graphics, tactile details, and often have a chime bell concealed inside. Babies will look intently at a ball and track its movement with its eyes. Once sitting, the child is likely to engage in fine motor play, exploring tactile features from piping along the ribs to sewn in ribbons of different colors, textures, or widths or discovering the differences among sections of a segmented balls.

By four months or so, babies will reach for a ball, grasp it between open palms and begin exploring its shape, internalizing the feeling of roundness. When the ball rolls out of reach, she makes every effort to retrieve it by shifting her weight, rotating her trunk, and working to maintain balance while sitting upright, likely becoming frustrated when the ball rolls farther away with each try.

With crawling comes new play possibilities. Now baby can chase after and retrieve this obSegmented tactile fabric rainbow ballject of delight, and older children and adults can expand play by joining the baby and rolling the ball back and forth. Such play builds trust and re-enforces what the baby is learning about the nature of a ball in motion.

The eight sections of Rainbow Ball make grasping and holding on to a ball easier. When exploring the ball, the baby discovers distinctive colors, some solid, others with simple patterns from dots and stripes to a twisting vine, textures from smooth to nappy, ridged or netting, and sounds from crinkle to rattle to squeak. Such multi-sensory experiences lay the groundwork for developing auditory, tactile, and visual discrimination.


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Lights, Music, and Movement, Everyone!

All light up toys are feasts for our eyes. Some hum or whir, causing our ears to perk up too. Think Meteor Storm. Others encourage active play. Finger Lightz come to mind as a light up that gets fingers wiggling, arms waving, and feet dancing. Combining lights, sound, and movement creates multi-sensory play experiences. Consider Jammin’ Gym.   Appeals to all abilities and all ages. Such inclusion teaches all of us that we are each unique and we all contribute to the wholeness of each other.


Jammin’ Gym, an electronic free weight, combines twinkling light shows, jamming music, and 65 whole body exercises targeting head and shoulders, arms and legs. Jammin’ Gym develops balance, coordination, and gross motor skills while reinforcing the ability to listen and follow instructions. Such sensory motor integration enhances brain development and supports learning. Once learned in this fun, playful way, the exercises can be done from memory, any time, any where. These early fun experiences with physical fitness routines help establish positive attitudes towards exercise and provide a way to relieve stress, both vital to healthy living.

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Best Ever Light Up Toys

Light up toys are our best sellers. Some are simple, others are more complex. All immediately grab our attention. Spellbound, we focus intently on the lights. Waiting expectantly to see what comes next. While watching, we’re so absorbed in the moment that we forget our worries.  As a result, our mood improves. Beyond that, our bodies relax and our minds calm.  Which is what makes light up toys such effective distraction toys. As well as why making time to play is good for the body and good for the brain.

Beyond those benefits,  light up toys help children develop skills. Not only by reenforcing their emerging  understanding cause and effect but also by improving their fine motor skills. In addition, following the movement of the lights strengthens visual tracking skills. Universally appealing, light up toys delight both the young and the young at heart. Starting at number 7, here’s our take on what makes each of these light up toys a winner. Sales determined the order of the best light up toys.

Going Swing

Seventh place goes to Going Swing which changes color with a squeeze of the hand. Move through seven constant colors: blue, green, red, purple, cyan, yellow, and white to slow, then fast pulsing color bursts. Shock resistant polycarbonate core features a removable, ribbed, thermoplastic cover that provides slip resistant tactile stimulation. Going Swing comes with a detachable lanyard for wearing and swinging. Imagine calling your posse together and creating dazzling light shows. Simply by dancing, prancing, and waving Going Swings. Then use your smart phone to capture the spontaneous celebration of light and movement.



Light Up Whirly Wheel

Number six, Light Up Whirly Wheel, demonstrates how something old can become new again with the addition of lights. Experience centrifugal forces first hand. Tip Whirly Wheel up and down by its handle to make the wheel spin. Spinning creates the rainbow light effect, The faster the wheel spins, the brighter the light display. High quality magnets keep the wheel spinning smoothly along metal rails. Drop the wheel onto the floor, and watch the top spin like crazy! Not only develops visual tracking skills but also improves fine motor skills and wrist rotation. Measures 12″ long.



 Going Magic Light Ball

Fifth place belongs to Going Magic Light Ball. This 2 3/4-inch diameter ball changes color with a squeeze of the hand. Squeeze  through seven colors – blue, green, red, purple, cyan, yellow, and white plus three light modes – constant color, slow, and fast pulsing. Know how to juggle? Going Magic Light Ball is ideal for creating dazzling, mesmerizing light shows. The shock resistant polycarbonate core is clad in a removable, ribbed, thermoplastic cover that provides slip resistant tactile stimulation.



Light Up Magnetic Gyro Wheel

This variation on Light Up Whirly Wheel, another of our Best Ever Light Up Toys, allows us to experience centrifugal force first hand as we tip Magnetic Gyro Wheel up and down by its handle to make the wheel spin around the ring. Spinning creates the rainbow light effect; the faster the wheel spins, the brighter the light display. High quality magnets keep the wheel spinning smoothly. Drop the wheel onto the floor and watch the top spin and spin and spin. Develops fine motor skills, wrist rotation, and visual tracking. Measures 8″ long.

Flashing Spiky Ball

In fourth place is the sensory and simply delightful Flashing Spiky Ball. Bounce or whack on a hard  surface to activate the colored flashing lights inside this 2 1/2″ diameter malleable, spiky ball. The soft spikes provide sensory input that many children and adults find calming.



Light Up DNA Ball

Number three is the ultra smooth, soft, flexible, thermoplastic, elastomer Light Up DNA BallFilled with soft, translucent mini spheres in assorted bright pastels and a LED ball that lights up when squeezed. In addition to relieving stress, squeezing  improves flexibility and strengthens the muscles in fingers and hand.



Lazer Lightz

Fit-on-your-fingers lights. Simply slide the switch forward to turn on the LED, then light up the night. Wiggle your fingers, wave your arms, and dance around. Add music and let your imagination soar.  Develops bi-lateral coordination, fine and gross motor, and visual tracking skills. Encourages movement and creativity.

Meteor Storm

At the top of light up toys is Meteor Storm. A spinning ring of 10 lights creates ever-changing, multi-colored light patterns inside a clear globe. Steady hum and gentle vibration add auditory and tactile input for a multi-sensory experience. Touch and hold on/off button teaches cause and effect and keeps child engaged. Measures 8″ tall. Meteor Storm is the ultimate distraction toy and a consistent motivator. Teachers of the visually impaired report students so eager to earn play time with a Meteor Storm that they readily “get down to business” and complete their assignments promptly. And, of course, Meteor Storm is a great antidote to a grey day or a dark night.


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Tips for Selecting Shape Sorters

Remember the expression “a square peg in a round hole”? Immediately we understand what’s being said; someone is a misfit, an individual who does not fit within a specific group. The observation creates a visual impression. We see in our mind’s eye the misfit between a square peg and a round hole. Perhaps because as toddlers we played with one or more shape sorters and learned to “post” shapes into their corresponding spaces.

Shape sorters take many forms, and what works well for one child might not be the best choice for another. When considering shape sorters, remember that toddlers are just beginning to distinguish shapes. Limit shapes to basic ones: circle, square, triangle. The goal is to balance challenge with the likelihood of success. Acquiring skills is an ongoing process that moves forward with experience, repetition, and incremental success.

Shape sorters develop eye-hand coordination, fine motor, cognitive, and language skills. Rewarding matching with a distinctive sound also develops auditory awareness and discrimination. Value-added features expand play possibilities.

Children need to feel competent and confident of their skills before moving on to the next level. If a toy is too complex, the child will avoid it, and we will need to “walk backwards in our minds” to identify the missing link between where she is now and the activity we’ve offered.

With discriminating shapes, stepping back means assessing multiple skills. Does she easily grasp and release? Does she relish every opportunity to” fill and spill”? Are her eye-hand coordination and fine motor skills well developed enough for her to fit a peg in a hole? These activities come before posting shapes. The Classic Pop Up Toy is an engaging, traditional wooden toy featuring four peg figures that pop up and down on concealed springs as the child presses one after another. The removable figures can be color matched to stripes on the front of the box but that’s optional. The focus is on developing eye-hand coordination and fine motor skills required for successful posting. Matching colors and shapes are a next step.

Ambi Lock A Block is my favorite shape sorter. Features that make Lock A Block most successful to Raised rims make sorting shapes easierbeginning sorters also make it a must for inclusive play. Unique attributes that support success in identifying and matching primary colors and basic shapes include high contrast between white top and color matched, raised rim openings and three dimensional shapes that drop into place more readily than shaped dowel pieces. Retrieving shapes by unlocking a door on the front of the block adds another dimension to play. The permanently attached key fits smoothly in the lock and turns easily. The lock clicks as the key turns, adding auditory input.


3-shapes sound emitting shape sorterA perennial favorite among the blind and visually impaired is Hooty-Hoo Shape Sound Sorter. Each shape makes a unique sound as it slides down its clear tube. The basic shapes – circle, square, and triangle – require more precise fitting than the three dimensional ones in Lock A Block, but the auditory response rewards the persistent. For children needing tactile re-enforcement, the openings for the shapes can be outlined with a Wikki Stix. When no longer needed, Wikki Stix peels off easily. Retrieve the shapes by turning Hooty-Hoo Shape Sound Sorter upside down.

When choosing a shape sorter, consider the child who will be playing with the toy. Once you’ve figured out the appropriate skill level, you’ll be able to choose confidently.

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Stack and Learn

Toddlers are scientists. They’re constantly researching “what happens if” and observing the outcome of their experiments. Thus the insistence upon repetition. Consistent results confirm their understanding of cause and effect. Through repetition the children develop a basic understanding of the relationship between actions and effects. The more open-ended and varied the play experiences, the better. Similar but different play experiences allow children to apply what they’ve learned and adapt it to new challenges.

Building beakers nest one inside the other or stack one atop another. The design of classic wooden stackers, on the other hand, limits play to stacking alone. The process of stacking also changes when the object becomes piling rings one atop another on a dowel.  A stacker with a uniform dowel allows placing rings in any order without regard to their relative size, as would be required by a cone shaped post. The child is free to focus on attaining competence at one task before tackling another. This reduces frustration and invites experimenting with different arrangements of the rings. As the child becomes aware of differences in size, she’ll likely stack from largest to smallest as well as experiment with turning the column upside down by arranging rings from smallest to largest, a feat more easily accomplished when stacking on a post than when piling larger building beakers atop smaller ones.

Holgate, an American toymaker, introduced Rocky Color Cone, a classic wooden stacker with a twist, in 1938. The trademarked feature, a rounded bottom, invites children to give Rocky a push and watch as it rocks, spins, and topples over, spilling the rings and setting the stage for another round of stacking and toppling. 

Once a single dowel stacker becomes “old hat,” consider double or triple versions with variations in the shapes and colors of the rings. A triple stacker with uniform dowels invites mixing and matching of rings in three distinctive shapes and color combinations. No longer focusing exclusively on developing motor skills, the preschooler is ready to turn her attention to new challenges.

Stacking develops eye-hand coordination, grasp and release, fine motor control, and spatial awareness. Identifying colors and shapes, recognizing relative sizes, and developing patterns that mix and match these attributes represents cognitive and language skills that come from interacting freely with similar but different toys along a developmental continuum. 

Learning is an incremental process. Understanding patterns is a prerequisite for learning to read. Words are letters arranged in specific patterns. P-L-A-Y is essential. We learn because we play.

PlayopolisToys – for the diverse needs of the citizens of play