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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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How Worry Eaters Help Children Manage Fears

Plush character holds worries and cuddles

Everyone Worries

We are all afraid of something. So we worry. Children and adults alike. And that’s not altogether bad. In fact, our fears help keep us safe and motivate us to do whatever we can to avoid what we fear could happen.

Whether we’re 16 or 60, taking the written test to get or renew a driver’s license is likely to make us anxious. We fret over the possibility we’ll fail. That fear motivates us to study the manual until we feel prepared. No guarantee we’ll pass, but we’re more likely to answer the questions correctly and to feel less apprehensive.

Real Versus Imaginary

Children worry too. Sometimes their fears spring from their active imaginations.  Take monsters under the bed. These fearsome creatures may be make-believe, but to the young child not yet clear about the difference between fantasy and reality, the fear is real.

Magical thinkers who view the world from a self-centered perspective, children often believe themselves responsible for events. I recall our then three year old son thinking his grandparents had bought a new car because he’d thrown up in the old one. He worried they were angry with him. In his mind, he’d ruined their car. That months had passed between these unrelated events never occurred to him.

Tools for Managing Worries

Gerd Hahn knows the feeling of losing sleep from worry overload. A creative man, he used his angst and talent to create a solution – Worry Eaters. Engaging, soft, huggable characters, their manta is “Let me carry your worries so you don’t have to.”

Their invitation is simple.

1. Write down or draw your fears and worries.

2. Feed them to me – I’ll hold them for you.

3. We’ll get through this together.

That’s a powerful message. Worry Eaters help children put a name on their worries and express their feelings. As adults we sometimes can’t put a finger on the cause of our distress. Likewise children sometimes cannot find words to explain theirs.

A trusted, caring adult, can help a child figure out and assign a name to what’s bothering him. Through the process of sharing his feelings, the child gains emotional support. By feeding his worries to a Worry Eater, the child lightens his load, creating space between himself and his worries.

A favorite Worry Eater also becomes a confidant. Whenever a child needs an ear, Worry Eater listens. Soft and huggable, Worry Eater comforts and consoles.

Not Just for Little Kids

Worry Eaters help bigger kids too. School age children face daily challenges as they grow and develop. Managing worries in a healthy way is a must. Worry Eaters, like a journal, serve to ease anxiety by encouraging kids to identify and cope with what’s bothering them. The process of naming the worry and feeding it to a Worry Eater symbolically creates space for problem-solving.

Customers have purchased Worry Eaters for their young adult children too. I recall one buying two to send daughters in law school. She figured – and you know she’s right on – those young women had plenty of worries in need of holding.

Worry Eaters in Therapeutic Situations

I credit my daughter-in-law with this idea. Having individual Worry Eaters for every little kid client is expensive. What she suggests is creating a file box with an envelope for each client. Between sessions transfer the worries to these envelopes for safe keeping and quick retrieval.

Something for Everyone

Worry Eaters help children (and their adults) express and cope with their worries in a healthy way. With two sizes and an array of delightful characters-five available both large and small-you’re sure to find a Worry Eater perfect for every worrier in your life.

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Mathematics: Numeracy

wood sound number puzzle

From Reciting to Understanding

When reciting numbers in ascending order or saying the alphabet, young children are usually simply demonstrating memorization skills. Numeracy and literacy require understanding the meaning those symbols and being able to put that knowledge to work. A number represents a specific quantity and is used in counting and calculating. Letters combine to form words.

Patterns Emerge

The particular arrangement of numerals signifies a particular arithmetical value. A specific arrangement of letters creates a specific word. The same numerals and letters can be arranged in multiple ways with very different meanings. Take the numerals 1, 2, and 3. These three numbers can be arranged to become 123, 132, 213, 231, 312, and 321. The letters o, p, and t can be arranged to read opt, pot, or top. Making calculations  and reading demand our attention. Numbers and letters are symbols we learn to decipher while developing reading, writing, and arithmetic skills.

Activities of Daily Living

We’re planting seeds of understanding when we impart information during daily activities. Dressing provides numerous opportunities. Naming the garments and enlisting cooperation as we’re putting each one on is one way. Guiding an arm into a sleeve while saying “let’s put this arm in this sleeve, one arm, one sleeve, there we go” gives meaning to the number one and shows one-to-one correspondence. One is one, whether an arm or a sleeve. The body offers many opportunities for learning words and numbers. From head to toes-two eyes, one nose, two ears, one mouth, two hands, 10 fingers, two feet, 10 toes.

Mother Goose and Finger Play

Nursery rhymes provide early lessons in literacy and numeracy. Thank Mother Goose for “This Little Piggy.”  Jennifer Griffin writing in Humpty Who? provides accompanying finger play that delights infants and toddlers.

This little piggy went to market,

Wiggle baby’s big toe between your thumb and index finger

This little piggy stayed home,

Wiggle second toe.

This little piggy had roast beef,

Wiggle middle toe.

This little piggy had none.

Wiggle fourth toe.

This little piggy went

  Wee, wee, wee,

  all the way home.

Wiggle the little toe and then run your fingers up      

the baby’s foot and leg as far as you can get.

At the Supermarket

Young children learn numeracy from everyday activities too. While at the supermarket buying fresh fruit, we can point out the number of bananas in a bunch or count apples as we’re putting them in the produce bag. This shows a child that a number represents a specific, unchanging quantity, regardless of what is being counted, and reenforces the sequence of numbers.

Zero is A Cardinal Number

When we’re learning to count, typically we begin at one. We can see one-to-one correspondence and understand quantity. Yet our cardinal number system starts with zero, and understanding that concept is critical. While shopping for produce, show an empty bag and ask “how many apples are in the bag?” Answer, “zero.” Point out that the bag is empty. Then add an apple, and again ask “how many apples are in the bag now?” When buying number puzzles, choosing one that begins with zero re-enforces the concept of 0: naught, no quantity, no number. When children learn 0 through 9, they’re better able to understand how our number system progresses. Consider Sound Puzzle Numbers. Under every numeral is an illustration of the quantity the number represents.  The space below 0 is blank. This puzzle also shows how easily the numbers zero to nine become 10 to 19. Playing around with the individual numbers creates new ones. Different arrangements, different values.

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Developing Math Awareness and So Much More

Children writing equation solution on chalkboard

April is Mathematics and Statistics Awareness Month. That got me to thinking about ways children learn mathematical concepts during play and through daily activities, observations, and conversations. Consider the infant gazing intently at the face of the person cuddling her. The human face is intriguing, each unique yet sharing similar features in a particular order. Thus begins an awareness of patterns, of similarities and differences, both precursors to language and mathematics.

Children are naturally curious. As adults we encourage their learning when we supply words that describe their daily experiences and set the stage for cognitive and language development. Washing up is a perfect time to point out and name features—ears, nose, fingers, toes. Think of nursery rhymes that reenforce this information. Remember Mother Goose? Now’s the time for playing with toes and saying,

This little piggy went to market, 

This little piggy stayed home, 

This little piggy ate roast beef, 

This little piggy had none. 

This little piggy went…Wee, wee, wee, all the way home!

 Of course, that naturally leads to a comment on how many feet and how many toes the child has. This rhyme becomes an introduction to the concept of one to one correspondence, key to understanding the meaning of numbers. One foot, five toes, two feet, 10 toes. For numbers to have meaning, initially the numbers need to correspond to concrete objects. Abstract thinking comes later.
Dressing invites talking about clothes and the process of putting on and taking off. The process involves sorting out what goes on first, then next. That’s sequential order, an important executive skill involved in everything from independent dressing to reading and math. Chatting about the sequence helps toddlers understand its rationale. Of course, there’s some leeway in how we get dressed, but why do we put socks on our feet before sticking our feet in our shoes? You know, but someone just learning might not.
This is also a good time to talk about color, a distinguishing feature of any garment. Knowing the names of colors makes communicating easier. So, if the weather requires a jacket and the child has two, one red, another blue, offer a choice. Identifying the jackets by color, ask her whether she wants to wear the red or the blue one. She may not identify the one she wants by color, but she’ll begin to associate the colors with the words that describe them. Through such experiences children learn the value of language.

Children learn from interacting with people and objects in their environment. Quality toys invite exploration and open-ended play that build skills. Moving forward, we’ll explore how, beginning with math awareness.

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Read Across America

Happy Birthday, Dr. Seuss! Your books have had quite an impact these past 80 years. Your wonderfully whimsical words and drawings continue to delight and inspire the young and the young at heart. You encourage us to “think and wonder, wonder and think.” We’re better off when we do.
Your message is clear, “the more that you read, the more things you will know.”
So when the National Education Association wanted to create excitement about reading, they choose your birthday for an annual event called Read Across America. Designed to motivate kids to read more, the first celebration occurred on March 2, 1998. Now, all across America, schools hold assemblies and guests visit classrooms to read aloud to the students. I’ve even heard that some principals have dyed their hair green. I’m wondering if any cafeterias serve green eggs and ham. Now that would be a scream!

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How to Make Coloring Inclusive

Children build skills while playing. Think cause and effect, eye-hand coordination, fine and gross motor, cognitive, language, problem solving, social and more. PlayopolisToys sells toys that engage the senses and invite open-ended, child directed play.

Children learn while playing, each at his or her own pace. They explore what’s at hand, whether a puddle of muddy water after a rain or blocks. They devise, execute, assess, and adapt their plans based upon their experiences. When playing with others, children sharpen their social skills, learn to communicate, negotiate, and cooperate.

Because play builds bridges among children with diverse abilities, PlayopolisToys sells toys that appeal to and work well for a wide range of abilities and preferences. Inclusive play reduces social isolation among children with disabilities and raises awareness and acceptance of individual differences.

A classic childhood activity for enhancing fine motor skills is coloring. Raised line drawings for coloringColorSENSEation features 12 raised line drawings perfect for use with crayons, markers, watercolor, or tempera paints. Each spiral-bound book includes the printed word and Braille for each design, along with a plastic page protector. Raised lines enhance spatial awareness and give structure. Beneficial to both children and adults, ColorSensation develops eye-hand coordination, fine motor, cognitive, language, color concept, and spatial awareness skills, provides visual and tactile stimulation, and enhances social engagement. Ideal for the visually-impaired, these spiral bound coloring books benefit anyone working to develop fine motor control or who simply learns best through touch. With ColorSENSEation coloring becomes inclusive and meaningful for a wider audience.

 

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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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Why is Quality Play So Important?

Play is essential to early learning; children need to be actively involved in their play in order to develop basic learning skills. Doctors and teachers say it’s how your young child learns about herself and her world.

Quality play promotes close relationships:
The most important part of your child’s healthy development is safe, trusting relationships with your and the other caregivers in her life. Interacting with your child through positive, supportive play experiences will help her gain the confidence she needs to build loving and healthy relationships.

Quality play promotes language:
One of the greatest achievements in the first three years of life is the development of language. Talking with your baby and toddler about what is happening around him while playing and responding to his sounds, words, and gestures lays the foundation for healthy brain development, as well as future success learning how to read and write at school.

Quality play promotes creativity:
Creative play experiences come from your child’s interests and abilities. It’s the process that’s important in creative play – when they do, not the product they make in the end. Current brain research shows that children learn best when they experiment and discover for themselves rather than being shown by adults.

Quality play promotes physical development:
It’s important that you provide time for active play in a safe, open space with materials that allow children to move their bodies and use their senses. Limit time spent in car seats, swings, and other restricted spaces.

Quality play promotes thinking skills:
The kind of play described in this guide, gives your child the opportunity to learn concepts and problem solving strategies which are critical for future academic learning in science, math and literacy.

Quality play promotes social skills:
Through play, your child will learn how to get along with others. Although your young child may not be developmentally ready to “play” with other children, interactive experiences will help set the foundation for future friendships.

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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Consider How Toys Will Be Used and Stored

We’re looking at two issues here. How a child will be playing with toys and how toys will be stored when not in play.

Special Needs Dictate How Children Play

When choosing a toy, we need to keep in mind how the child plays. A child using a wheelchair likely will play at a table or on a tray that attaches securely to his chair.  At the table, his reach will determine his access to toys, and we need to place play things within those individual boundaries to encourage independent play.  Food service trays, clear plastic containers, and small baskets can corral pieces and be easily pushed out of the way or be pulled closer, as needs dictate.

When using a wheelchair with an attached tray, the child has limited play space. Non-slip pads help keep toys on the tray.

Individual needs and special circumstances dictate how children play. We need to stage toys to insure the best possible play experience.

Best Practices for Storing Toys

Storage is a universal challenge. Clear plastic containers with lids are often the best choice. Available in a variety of sizes, they are sturdy, stackable, and easy to clean. Use a label maker to print self-adhesive labels or simply hand print and apply labels to the ends of each box for easy identification of contents. Or laminate and tape pictures of the contents to the end of each box. Pictures and words together re-enforce language and literacy and make finding toys easier. This approach facilitates rotating toys so that not everything is available all the time.

Another choice is baskets which also come in an array of shapes, sizes, and depths, including some with tops. As a grandmother, I use baskets and small, shallow wooden crates for toy storage. Our granddaughter can easily see what’s available and choose what’s most appealing at the moment. And we can control clutter by trading out one basket or crate  for another  when interest wanes.

Having dedicated shelf space for storing the containers makes putting away toys quick and easy. Forget toy boxes altogether. Everything tends to get pulled out and dumped on the floor every time the child goes looking for a specific toy, and that can damage toys. Besides, safety is an issue too. Toy boxes encourage crawling into, then requiring help to safely get out of.  Fortunately most now feature child-safe lids.

PlayopolisToys – for the diverse needs of the citizens of play