The choices are mind numbing. Walk into any toy store or the toy section of any department store and there are shelves and tiers of toys labeled ‘educational toys’. There are books, games, dolls and the list just goes on and on. It includes everything from an infant’s building blocks to Leapfrog interactive games. The sheer variety is overwhelming. How does a parent or a grandparent choose the best educational toys for the children in their lives? Will the child like it? Will it hold up under the abuse of play? Will it accomplish the purposes for which it was purchased? And finally, is it a good value for the money?
The first rule that parents and grandparents should keep in mind is to buy educational toys that are age appropriate. The temptation is nearly overwhelming to buy children, especially infants, toys that reflect the interests of the giver. For example, how many times have you seen fathers who were sports enthusiasts give a child a piece of sports equipment that was way beyond the youngster’s ability to use. Footballs, fishing rods and bows and arrows given to infants and toddlers are a complete waste of money. Parents, proudly convinced they are raising a child prodigy, create a frustrated youngster when they push the child into playing with toys outside the manufacturer’s suggested age range. Real safety hazards are presented when children are encouraged to play with toys beyond their ability to understand or handle safely.
The second rule of buying educational toys is to keep in touch with the child’s interests. Children grow and develop at rapid rates, both mentally and physically. Continually changing interests are a natural part of this development as the child explores new ideas and concepts. It is important for parents, and grandparents, to spend time playing with the child for a whole host of reasons. One of those reasons is that it helps the adult keep in touch with the child’s current interests. Play is how children learn and educational toys are tools of that play. It does little good to buy a small girl jigsaw puzzles and Teletubbies when what really interests her are word games and chemistry sets.
Educational Toys Should Serve A Purpose And Stimulate The Child
Choose educational toys that stimulate the child. How often have we purchased children a toy and watched them shove the toy aside and play with the box in which it was packaged? Educational toys are of two basic types. They are those that develop physical skills and those that develop cognitive skills. Legos, for example, are great educational toys for older pre-school and elementary school aged children. Legos invite children to become creative as they assemble these interlocking blocks into an unlimited myriad of shapes and designs. The activity of assembling the Legos also helps develop fine motor skills.
Beware toys that are so highly developed that the game does all of the play. Some video games fall into this category. The child does not have to think or even be especially adept or coordinated physically to play the game. These games may be an interesting diversion for the youngster, but they contribute very little to either the youngster’s creative or physical development.
When selecting educational toys, choose quality over quantity. We have discussed children’s continually evolving interests. Even so, we all too often overwhelm our children at gift-giving occasions such as birthdays, Christmas and Hanukkah. Youngsters go from toy to toy and cannot decide with which to play. If this only happens a couple of times a year the child will eventually sort them out and play with all of them. The problem is that many children are continually given new toys, not only at special occasions but also throughout the year.
Some children are given so many toys that they remain overwhelmed. They do not learn to appreciate the things that they are given. They can also develop a distorted sense of values. They begin to equate parental and grandparental love with the quantity of things they are given. Their expectations of what they will be given escalate into unrealistic levels. This is a disastrous characteristic if it is carried into adulthood.
Children overwhelmed by the number of toys they are given receive little benefit from the educational toys. They cannot concentrate on any one toy long enough to let their creativity blossom. Too many toys can be damaging to a youngster.
Parents and grandparents should also concentrate on toys with build-in quality. As we have already discussed, the toy should be designed to stimulate the child’s physical skills or creative abilities. The toy should also be safe and durable for the age group of children for which it was designed. The toy should be designed to hold up well under the abuse of play. It should not be constructed of potentially toxic materials such as lead-based paint. It should also be constructed in a manner where small pieces that can be swallowed will not readily be broken off and in a way that there are minimal risks of injury from sharp edges or corners.
While there are many small manufacturers of excellent toys, when in doubt choose toys made by top-rated companies with time tested brand names. Examples include Fisher Price, Disney games and Milton Bradley to name just a few.
Parents and grandparents can help their youngsters safely develop into happy, healthy and well-rounded young adults with some conscientious attention to the educational toys they choose. Just keep in mind the child’s level of development and current interest and choose toys that are appropriate for that age and interest. Make sure the toy will stimulate the child either physically or creatively. You want to stretch the child’s abilities, but not so much that the youngster becomes frustrated or so little that the child either becomes bored with the toy or lazy physically or mentally. Finally, if given the choice, select one or two quality toys rather than a room full of cheap toys.