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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.

Pinholes

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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Seasons Wane but Making Music Goes On Year Around

With Labor Day approaching fast I am wondering what happened to summer. Did it slip away? Race past? Fly by? In any case, I am aware of shortening hours of day light, hear school bells ringing, and know that while we may still be sweltering in the heat, the “lazy, hazy days of summer” are nearing an end. Enjoy what’s left. Farmer’s markets are awash in the bounties of the season. Visit one and choose your favorite summer fruits and vegetables to savour before the season ends.

Be alert for signs of change. Soon the autumal equinox will signal the return of shorter days and longer nights. The air will grow crisp, and we’ll find ourselves stowing summer gear and digging out sweaters. Embrace the present and prepare for the future.

Making music is a universal, year round activity capable of building bridges among people of different cultures and various ages. As a solitary pursuit or a group activity, whether we’re listening or performing, music enriches our lives.

Music has the power to engage, relax, energize, and improve our intellectual and social skills. Some music relaxes our bodies and soothes our minds. Other music gets us moving: clapping our hands, tapping our toes, and dancing. We find ourselves humming a tune or singing along. While we’re thoroughly engaged and enjoying ourselves, we’re improving our motor skills and developing spatial intelligence. If we’re sharing our musical experience with others, we’re honing social skills too.

Rhythm band instruments introduce young children to the joys of making music. Latin Percussion, a leading manufacturer of percussion instruments for professionals and amateurs, adults and children alike, divides percussive instruments into four categories: drums, shakers, blocks and wood tones, and bells, jingles and whistles.

Drums create rhythmic melodies
Shakers articulate melodic rhythms and add shimmering,
buzzing sound quality to the music.
Blocks and wood tones create the fundamental pulse of the music, indicating meter, stress, and feel. These tap, tick, and clap sounds have been likened to a heartbeat.
Bells and jingles are leading tones that add punctuation to a musical piece.

Back to school is a perfect time for putting out instruments, encouraging musical play, and savoring the connections between play and learning. PlayopolisToys offers an array of early childhood musical instruments to delight “all the members of the band.” Put together a collection and start making music.

PlayopolisToys – for the diverse needs of the citizens of play

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More Play Recommendations for Toddlers

Think of traditional toddler toys. Shape sorters and nesting and stacking toys are sure to come to mind. Choices seem endless, and without taking developmental readiness into account, we could easily make an unwise selection. How do we decide what’s most appropriate for a toddler?

Simplicity is key

We are buying for a child between 12 and 36 months of age, and eye-hand coordination, fine and gross motor skills and the process of distinguishing among colors, shapes, and sizes are in their infancy. Toys must be inviting and engaging. By that I mean toys that allow independent investigation where children discover innate properties and experiment to find out “what happens if…” No batteries required.

Repetition

Toddlers learn through repetition and like being able to do a task over and over again. This re-enforces what they’ve learned and leads to further exploration as new skills emerge. Success spurs a child onward. Failure leads to frustration, and that’s when we adults need to get involved.

Frustration and Persistence

Sometimes we can talk a child through the challenge, and she learns the value of collaboration in problem solving. Other times frustration is too intense. Then we need to insist the child stop for the time being. Learning that she can take up the challenge again later is a lesson in itself. Persistence develops as the child discovers she can overcome challenges when she “sticks with it” and that she can choose to “go away and come back later.” Keep in mind that we’re talking about toddlers and all these “life lessons” take years to learn.

As adults we re-learn this over and over again. When we find ourselves frustrated, taking a deep breath and starting anew sometimes works. Seeking input from others gives us new perspectives that may lead to success. Other times our best bet is to walk away–literally but temporarily.

Mastering Prequisite Skills

When investing in toys for a toddler to stack, nest or sort by color, shape, or size, consider where the child is developmentally. Before a child can fit a shape into a sorter, she must be able to grasp and hold the shape and have enough eye-hand coordination and motor control to place the shape in its hole.

Filling and spilling activities help a child develop the requisite skills. Grasping and releasing a ball is a first step. Dropping a ball in a bucket and dumping it out is another. When a child has mastered these skills, she’s ready to learn something new. Again the process is gradual. Simple is best. Offering a choice of two or three shapes to distinguish among is enough. Once the child understands the differences among a circle, a triangle, and square, she’ll discover what goes where.

Think about shape sorters and stack and nest toys you’ve seen. Which do you think would be most engaging to a toddler? Why? I’ll share my thoughts soon.

PlayopolisToys – for the diverse needs of the citizens of play

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Choosing Books for Toddlers (12-36 months)

Having explored play recommendations for infants, let’s look now at toddlers, starting with books and in subsequent posts looking at toys for the 12-36 month olds in our lives. Young children thrive on repetition and insist upon hearing their favorite books read over and over again.  After multiple hearings, most become so familiar with their most beloved ones that they become alert to skipped pages or missed words.

Choose Topics of  Interest 

Good books for younger toddlers include ones focusing on topics that interest them, such as animals, food, and faces with different expressions. You can include books with multiple images on a page, but those images should be visually simple. Ask your child to name objects on a page. If you are reading about animals, ask her to make animal sounds,

For older toddlers, good books are those with repetitive text that allows the child to “read” a story herself and ones that tell stories about familiar experiences such as going to the park or cooking. Other helpful books encourage skill building such as dressing, toileting, and sharing. This is an age when “do it myself” is a common refrain, and books showing children successfully doing everyday tasks re-enforce emerging skills.

Engage Your Child

Make story time a part of every day. Engage your child with the story by asking questions about happens next or how the characters are feeling. These questions develop sequential memory and invite exploration of feelings and how facial expressions reflect feelings. . Encourage your child to say familiar words and phrases that appear in the book.

Make Books

You can also make a book with photographs of your child to encourage language and social/emotional development. You can make a book about a daily activity such as going to day care and coming back home. Include photos of your child engaged in favorite activities at both places. Photos of favorite people at day care invite your child to share information and feelings about those with whom she spends her days, enhancing her language development and giving you a child’s perspective.

Document Experiences 

Documenting trips to visit grandparents with photos of these special people in their homes engaged in mutually delightful activities with your child also encourages language. Let the child describe the who, what, when, and where of the story the photo captures and write that down. This helps your child learn who’s who in her family, develop sequential memory, and capture those memories. Writing down what your child says and reading that back to her demonstrates the connection between spoken and written language.

Walk Down Memory Lane

Who doesn’t enjoy “walks down memory lane” that remind us of times spent with beloved extended family members? We have a snapshot of our son as a “beaming” preschooler decked out in a sailor suit, which he called a “tailor tuit.” He’s showing off a cake he and my mother baked and decorated with a picture of his “hero of the minute,” Popeye. At the time, that photo prompted him to tell a story. Three decades later, it invites us to pause, remember, and relive that special moment.

What books do you recommend for toddlers (and preschoolers for that matter)? Please let us know your absolute favorites. We’d like to compile a list to share with all our readers.

Adapted from TRUCE Guide on Infant & Toddler Play, Toys & Media, with permission from the Child Life Council.

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Shopping for an Infant

When shopping for books and toys for infants (0-12 month olds), think simple. Does the toy engage the senses and invite play? Babies like play involving materials of varied textures. Choose toys offering a variety of textures, colors, shapes, soft sounds, and materials (cloth/plastic/wood).

Here’s another consideration: is the toy easy to clean? After all, we all know how much babies like to mouth their toys and how often toys “hit the dirt.” Make play easier on yourself. Look for fabric toys marked machine washable. Some tumble dry safely; others line dry .

To illustrate toys that meet specific play recommendations, we have provided links to individual Infant/First Toys at PlayopolisToys. Follow these links for further information on quality toys that support child development.

Simple and Soft Toys

Simple rattles and soft toys make perfect first toys. Babies delight in shaking toys and making noise. When babies shake or touch a toy and then feel and hear the reaction, they learn cause and effect. Machine washable Baby Paper represents an ideal first soft toy, Oball Rattle, a perfect first rattle and ball.

Baby Friendly Books

Good books for infants include ones with one or two clear images per page and simple rhyming stories. Show your baby pictures, and read stories, allowing him to watch your mouth and facial expressions as you read. Name and point to objects on a page, but don’t worry about finishing a whole story. Wordless books work well too, providing an opportunity for simply pointing to and talking about the object on the page. Relating the object to everyday life is another way to share a book with a baby. Such books include At the Farm, a wooden book, Garden + Pets,  a 2-pack of soft fabric books, and Things That Go, a chew proof, rip proof book. These sturdy books are easy to hold and stand up to mouthing.

Beakers and Blocks

Try  building a towers with stacking cups or blocks for your baby to knock over. My favorite stacking cups are Ambi Building Beakers, featuring a unique raised pattern on the bottom of each cup. Younger infants like stackable One Two Squeeze Blocks for their soft “squeezability, ” bold colors, and varied textures. Once ready for more challenge, children migrate to Stack and Play with their varied shapes and sizes.

Musical Instruments and Peek-a-Boo Toys

Musical instruments and peek-a-boo toys help infants master concepts such as cause and effect and object permanence. Rainbowmaker, a rhythm band instrument, provides auditory and visual feedback as baby shakes and rotates the tube. Musical Jack-in-the-Box rewards action, the turning of the handle, with a reaction, Jack popping up, and re-enforces object permanence. Jack is always in the box, whether we see him or not.

Mirrors

Mirrors are a must for encouraging visual activity, sense of self, socialization, vocalization, and gross motor activity. Consider both the Wimmer Ferguson Double-Feature Mirror and the lightweight and easy to grasp Ambi Baby Mirror.

If you could choose only three infant toys for a favorite child, what would they be? Why? Let us know.

Adapted from TRUCE Guide on Infant & Toddler Play, Toys & Media, with permission from the Child Life Council.

PlayopolisToys – for the diverse needs of the citizens of play

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What Types of Toys Support Healthy Play?

Our last blog entry addressed the question Why Is Quality Play So Important? Now that we’ve defined the essential character of quality play, let’s move on to explore What Types of Toys Support Healthy Play? The answer goes beyond my suggestion that you Throw Away the Script and Engage the Imagination.

A quality infant and toddler toy can be used in many ways.

A quality toy can be used in more than one way and will grow with your child. For example, a set of nesting blocks can be used for many things: filling, dumping and stacking when your toddler is young, and as car garages, towers, for sorting, and homes for animals as she grows!

A quality infant and toddler toy engages the senses.

Young babies learn by using all of their senses. They like play that involves materials with a variety of texture, as well as lots of physical contact, singing and dancing. For older toddlers, play with sand, finger paint and shaving cream provides opportunities for learning using touch, smell, sight and sound.

A quality infant and toddler toy allows children to use their imaginations.

Look for stuffed animals or dolls that aren’t from a TV show, or other media, to allow your child to create her own play ideas. Developing creativity and problem solving skills is important for life long learning.

A quality infant and toddler toy lets children make decisions about their play.

A quality toy does not do something for the child. Instead, the child finds pleasure and satisfaction from doing something to the toy. For example, a soft and simple doll can do whatever your child imagines, while a battery-operated doll that talks limits what your child might pretend.

What does this kind of play look like?

When you child builds with blocks, she is learning many important skills such as: creativity as she creates a unique structure of her own design; physical development as she develops fine motor skills; and thinking as she explores relationships among object size, shape and balance.

When you share a book with your little one, you are developing social and emotional skills through parent/child bonding; language development and literacy skills as he learns new vocabulary, enjoys hearing stories, and learns to “read” the pictures to see what is happening; and creativity as you are supporting the development of his imagination.

With permission from the Child Life Council,  PlayopolisToys is pleased to share this most informative and thought provoking article with you, section by section. TRUCE Guide on Infant & Toddler Play, Toys & Media, reprinted from the Winter 2010 Child Life Council Bulletin.

PlayopolisToys – for the diverse needs of the citizens of play

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Throw Away the Script and Engage the Imagination

PlayopolisToys sells open-ended toys that engage children in self-directed play. Children use their imaginations and create their own play scenarios. They draw on their knowledge and experiences, and this includes books that have been read to them as well as movies and television shows they’ve watched. Although children may incorporate characters and story lines from these experiences, the toys do not dictate their play.

Licensed products, on the other hand, come with an implied script which suggests how the child will play.

Think about how a child plays with a classic wooden rail play set. Starting with the basics the child learns to connect and disconnect individual pieces and lay out track, thus refining fine motor skills and exploring spatial relationships. The train is kid-powered with the child using his imagination to create a scenario. Perhaps the child has ridden a train or visited a train museum. Those experiences inform his play.

As the child gains experience, he’ll likely want to create more complex lay-outs. This enhances problem-solving skills as he moves from visualizing to creating the “perfect” lay-out. He may want to add trains, perhaps different kinds, from the classic steam engine to diesel locomotives and bullet trains. He may want freight trains and passenger trains.

Often children incorporate other toys to bring a whole new dimension to rail play, adding an airport or a harbor where the train takes on freight or a zoo awaiting delivery of new animals. With blocks children can “develop the land” along the tracks, laying out a farm teeming with animals or a city complete with towering skyscrapers. The possibilities are limited only by their imaginations and available materials.

The point is: the classic toy grows with the child and the child with the toy. On the other hand, a licensed rail play set comes with a script that limits the imagination. Who needs to “reinvent the wheel”? The kid knows what’s what about this train and its adventures. He may embellish or otherwise alter the script, but the essence remains a given.

Of course, a child familiar with the stories behind the licensed product may choose to act out some of that character’s adventures with a classic wooden train set. That’s an option, but only one among the many that come into the child’s mind.

Albert Einstein said “imagination is more important than knowledge.” We agree. What do you think? Let us know. We’d be delighted to hear and share your observations on children and the importance of open-ended imaginative play.

PlayopolisToys – for the diverse needs of the citizens of play