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Time to Reimagine Playtime

As family nostalgia reaches new heights, now is the time to reimagine playtime. And in the process, to reinvent the way we think of toys. This time last year, we were inundated with digital games and gadgets. Children’s play seemed  as high tech as could be. Then Covid-19 happened. Suddenly everyone had to adopt new habits. We didn’t really have a choice. Wash hands, thoroughly and frequently. Carry sanitizer. Wear a mask. And above all, maintain social distance. To be safer still, stay within our  family ‘bubble’ or go into isolation.  Along the way, however, more positive changes occurred as families adjusted to this new reality.

Technology and the “New Normal”

We as parents have watched our children becoming ever more tech savvy in front of our eyes – seemingly younger and younger too! Many of us have noticed that even a two-year-old child can use an iPad to watch cartoons. Some parents have gone as far as trying to keep screens out of their kids’ lives for as long as possible. That’s because they don’t want the kids growing up thinking that having screens around is ‘normal’. These parents are very often reminded that nowadays, screens are normal. In fact, that might even be a good thing. In our social isolation we’ve increasingly yearned to reconnect with friends and family. Creating Zoom meetings makes that possible. Yet the ‘new normal’ doesn’t mean we can’t reconnect with our physical toys in an altogether more powerful way. Now that we have time to reimagine playtime.

Three Ways to Reimagine Playtime

Outdoor Exercise

During the pandemic many families are spending more time together than ever. This can be good if you go about it creatively. Many young families have been making the most of the extra time gained by not commuting.  They take an evening walk together when school and office hours are over. Spending time outdoors is   especially beneficial if you have been furloughed from work. It gets the kids out into the fresh air and keeps them physically active. They can bring toys like a ball, a skipping rope or a hula hoop. Use these toys not just for physical exercise, but as creative ways to reconnect too. When we’re all allowed back within a safe distance of each other – those toy routines may just become an even more important bonding experience for friends as well.

New Hobbies

This time fighting Covid-19 has also helped kids to get familiar with making new things. Kids feel great when something they made or helped to make actually gets used, like a knitted craft or a simple loaf of homemade bread. Today’s situation has brought about the unheard-of-for-years phenomenon of clear skies. Many families have marveled at being able to view mountains, formerly hidden by smog,  from their home for the first time ever. Many kids have developed a new-found fascination for exploring the night skies. If your child develops this interest, it’s worth investing in one of the best kids telescopes and exploring the skies together

Harness Technology for Virtual Playdates

Video calls on bigger screens like laptops can give kids the feeling of being connected to their friends and family. Reach out to the parents and schedule a video call or virtual playdate. Under parental supervision, kids under six (and over-sixes too) can chat with their friends and show each other the clever stuff they’ve made when doing crafts. They can tell each other funny stories about what happened in today’s walk. And the tasty chocolate cake they helped mummy or daddy make. The call can conclude after an agreed period of time, like twenty minutes. It will do the kids a lot of good. Socializing with their peers is important.

You can even organize a virtual movie night for them. They and their friends can watch the same movie at the same time at home and keep in touch with video calling during the movie interval or afterwards. Some streaming services have even added watch along features to make this easy. You can start and pause films to ensure you’re all watching at the same time. They can chat about the movie, the music, and anything else they want to.

Reimagining Life

There is no doubt that life has changed. Our day-to-day lives have been different during the last year. What we need not do is to panic. Just go with the changes and make the most of the opportunities to give your children positive, formative experiences. There are plenty of silver linings to be found in the current cloudy situation, if we’re ready to look for them. So take time to reimagine playtime and enjoy the new ways to play.

We thank Han-Son, the founder of DaddiLife, a platform and community of modern-day fatherhood in England, for sharing three ways that families can reimagine playtime during Covid pandemic. 

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Encourage Preschoolers to Use Their Imagination

Encourage preschoolers to use their imagination. Although  naturally imaginative, curious, and creative, they might be stuck in a rut with their play, grasping for the same toy or game repeatedly. Energize their imagination and inspire some creativity with engaging games that allow your child to create, learn, and explore. These fun activities don’t require any pricey toys or elaborate setups. All they need are some prompts from Mom and Dad and some creativity, and they’ll be engaged in some imaginative fun in no time.

1. Build With Boxes

Tuck away those extra boxes in the garage until you have a nice stack of them that can become a creative opportunity for your preschooler. A stack of cardboard boxes can serve as the inspiration behind some seriously creative pretend play for your child. Help them connect the boxes with duct tape to create a structure, whether you are building a castle, a rocket ship, or a boat. Then, leave the rest to them. Your child can decorate the box structure, play in it, fill it with stuffed animals or dolls, and so much more. Their imagination will come to life as they build, create, and play––all while reusing those extra boxes.

2. Cook With Play Dough

Encourage your preschooler to develop some life skills early––with lots of fun, too. Make some homemade play dough or pick up your favorite dough from the store. Then, give kids a plastic plate and plastic utensils like a pizza cutter or rolling pin to allow them to play cook. You can even give them some prompts, asking them to decorate a birthday cake or make a pizza. Glitter in a salt shaker can add some sparkle to their creation, and beads, gems or pipe cleaners are fun to add to their faux food creation.

3. Host a Special Event

Let your little one get creative in planning the perfect party. All they need is the prompt, and your preschool party planner can take care of the rest. Tell your child that their favorite doll or stuffed animal is having a birthday, and they need to plan the party. You’ll be delighted as you watch your preschooler’s mind at work as they decorate the space, design invitations, plan activities, and prepare for the special event. Then, invite the family––and some toy guests too––to watch the event unfold.

4. Create an Engaging Outdoor Space

Being outdoors can certainly inspire some creativity, so you want to ensure your preschooler has access to an outdoor space where they can use their imagination. Add a few outdoor toys to that space to further engage their creativity. An outdoor playhouse, for example, encourages a classic pretend play game of family. Together with siblings, friends, or even favorite toys, your child can cook, clean, and care in their kid-sized house. Likewise, consider a play set or sandbox, which serves as another outlet for creativity. A sandbox stocked with shovels, rakes, sieves, buckets, and plastic toys allows your child to build castles, create engaging setups, and transport their mind to a new place, all from the comfort of their backyard.

5. Butcher Paper Art

A roll of butcher paper goes a long way in engaging your preschooler’s imagination. Have your youngster lie down and trace their body. Then, give them craft supplies to draw themselves and decorate them however they so choose. Or, tape a long piece of paper to your floor using painter’s tape. Ask your child to draw your city as they see it. They can draw and color buildings, cars, animals, nature elements, and so much more. Butcher paper is also great for outdoor art because it offers a large surface for kids to create. Give them some waterproof paints and paint brushes and sponges and let them create on this blank canvas, which you can tape to your fence, patio or driveway and then display indoors when their masterpiece is complete.

Imaginative play gets your preschooler’s mind working by encouraging them to approach playtime from a new perspective. When they do, they’ll be more engaged and more inspired by the play, which means you’ll have a happy kid who dives right into creative time day after day.

The social isolation resulting from the current Covid-19 pandemic frequently challenges parents to come up with engaging activities for their preschoolers. Cristin Howard who runs Smart Parent Advice, a site that provides parenting advice for moms and dads. Cristin writes about all of the different ups and downs of parenting, provides solutions to common challenges, and reviews products that parents need to purchase. 

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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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Random Acts of Kindness

Valentine’s Day often finds us expressing our love for family and friends by presenting cards and gifts, and that’s a lovely tradition. When I was in elementary school, the idea was to exchange Valentines with our classmates, and the rule was that each child had to bring a Valentine for each and everyone in the class. No exceptions. Likely that’s why old fashioned Valentines came in cellophane wrapped boxes of more than enough for a class full of kiddos. I recall complaining about having to give cards to everyone, even those I was sure I did not like and definitely would not want “to be my Valentine.” My mother, of course, agreed with the teacher and made sure I had a Valentine for every classmate.

That was an early lesson in being kind. Did you know that Random Acts of Kindness Week begins on Valentine’s Day? That strikes me as perfect timing. What better day to launch a week – that hopefully begins a life time – of practicing acts of kindness? What better time to talk to our children about kindness and how being kind makes our world a better one for all of us?

Let’s explore with our children what being kind means and how we can be warm hearted, friendly, and generous-spirited, considerate, and sympathetic to the needs of others. A smile, a greeting, a compliment, pausing to hold the door for someone are all acts of kindness easily incorporated into our busy lives.

Talk with your children and together decide what acts of kindness each of you can do, then go out and “walk the talk.” Later gather for dinner and share your adventures of walking in kindness. The discussion will likely be lively, and everyone will likely agree that a day practicing random acts of kindness feels so much better than a day spent being grumpy and rude.

We’d like to hear your stories. Let us know your experiences in sharing Random Acts of Kindness Week with your family.

 PlayopolisToys – for the diverse needs of the citizens of play

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Cooperative Games = Family Fun

With Thanksgiving approaching fast, now is the best time to explore ways of bringing family members together to play. Fewer hours of daylight and dropping temperatures send us indoors. The challenge is to entice everyone to agree upon how to spend time interacting~doing something together for the sheer fun of sharing an activity. Question is, what will both children and adults enjoy doing together?

At PlayopolisToys, we suggest playing a board game, but not just any board game. Think cooperative games where everyone works together to achieve a common goal. Family Pastimes, a family owned and operated enterprise in Ontario, Canada, offers games to suit all ages and interests. Honestly they have something for everyone.

By laying aside competition and working cooperatively, non-readers and readers, preschoolers and high schoolers, parents and grandparents can play a game together and everyone come away with positive feelings. Everyone wins. No one leaves the game gloating or feeling like a loser.

Megana Hosein, the mother of three who introduced me to Family Pastimes is most enthusiastic about the value of cooperative board games. She writes, “I love how board games encourage interacting and thinking with children in a way that is rarely explored in our busy lives. It always amazes me to hear what they have to say about solving dilemmas within the game, and how this taps into greater topics of conversation that might otherwise have gone unrealized. Furthermore, new friends can easily be made over the commonality and cooperation in a board game, both with peers and with adults. Truly a gentle way to introduce social rules and simultaneously focus the active child while drawing out the shy one.”

Who could ask for more? What better time than Thanksgiving to gather family members and play together?

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Puzzles for Toddlers

Let’s look at classic toddler toys and explore how they enhance development in children from age 12 to 36 months. This post is devoted to puzzles.

Benefits of Puzzles

Putting together puzzles develops eye-hand coordination, cognitive, fine motor, and spatial skills. Figuring out how the pieces fit into a frame involves problem solving, persistence, and patience. And builds self esteem. Working cooperatively develops social skills.

Whole Object Puzzles

Begin with single whole-object wooden puzzles. Ideally made of wood, the pieces also need to be thick enough for a toddler to easily pick up. Sadly finding a whole object puzzle is akin to finding “a needle in a haystack.”

One alternative is 3D Feel & Find, with 20 matching wooden shapes and textured tiles. Offer the child one shape and its corresponding tile to explore and fit together. Next add another pair to determine how readily the toddler is able to distinguish between shapes and to match a shape to its tile. Gradually add more choices as the child becomes proficient at matching shapes and tiles.

Multiple Piece Whole Object Puzzles

Next offer puzzles with three or four individual pieces. Chunky pieces facilitate placement. Shapes should fit only in their proper places. That’s how you insure a truly self-correcting learning experience.

Different children cope with challenges differently. Some become frustrated easily. Consequently adults need to watch for signs of annoyance and intervene before an exasperated child sends a puzzle flying. A partially put together puzzle can easily be set aside. When the child is fresh, ready, and willing to “have another go” at fitting all the pieces, he can pick up where he left off. No blame, no shame.

Interlocking Pieces Puzzles

Simple puzzles with multiple pieces are the next step. Wooden Block Puzzles offer easy-to-grasp chunky pieces that fit together in a wooden tray. Look for  three, four, and five-piece puzzles with bright colors and simple graphics.

Don’t Rush to More Pieces

Puzzles with interlocking pieces are challenging. Children need time to absorb the lessons they learn before “forging ahead” to more complicated puzzles.

Puzzles are but one classic toddler toy, next we’ll explore shape sorters.

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Best Toys for Infants: No Purchase Necessary

Having explored the importance of quality play, the types of toys that support healthy play and those that do not, let’s look now at specific toys for infants (0-12month olds). Today we will look at what’s immediately available, no purchase required. Next we will explore types of toys to consider purchasing.

Remember: children develop at different rates. These are general ideas for supporting child development through play.

Especially for young babies, you are their best toy! Make facial expressions, sing, dance, and gently move their body parts to a rhythm – these are the kinds of rich interactions that help them develop relationships and learn about the world around them.

Containers such as nesting measuring cups, shoe boxes, or empty milk jugs are wonderful for stacking, filling and dumping.

Big household objects like a laundry basket or large box make quick homemade fun for a baby to explore climbing into, pushing and pulling.

Interacting with your baby about what you hear, see and smell as you walk around your home or your neighborhood enriches your child’s experiences and vocabulary.

We’ve all heard accounts of baby’s favorite present being the box and tissue paper. What household objects proved favorite toys with children in your life? Share your memories.

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

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More Infant and Toddler Toys to Avoid…

Now that we know why high tech toys and DVDs are inappropriate for those under two, let’s explore the case against flashy toys with lights and sound.

Generally, the simpler the toy is, the better it is for your child’s developing mind. Flashy toys are appealing and may entertain, but limit creativity and discovery which are important building blocks of learning.

As soon as two-and-a-half year old Jack got to his friend’s house he saw a new basketball toy. Hooray! He ran to get a ball and put it right in the hoop. As it went in, Jack heard the toy respond with “Great shot!” and saw the backboard light up. Jack loved it! He approached the toy, touched the lights and then found a little button inside the net – when he pushed it he heard, “Great shot!” again and saw the light show. Even though his Mom tried to get him to throw the ball again, Jack stood next to the hoop and pushed the button over and over.

to be continued next week…

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.

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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