Play 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. What does that mean?
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. Children with balloons require adult supervision. Beyond heeding warnings, safety requires observing individual children. 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.
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.
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.
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
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. 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. Toys and play are indeed essential to children’s development.