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Expert Tips on Value of Toys and Play and Child Development

  "You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation." - Plato

Tell me that I'm not the only one guilty of doing this. Sitting silently listening to my son playing, either alone or with friends, is one of my guilty indulgences. Putting aside the parental duties of snacks, spill-proof cups, tissues, referee calls, and bathroom breaks- it's a good time. The freedom of seeing kids in their element, jolly, stress-free, and unfiltered reveals so much about their growth and development. I Partnering with Occupational Therapist, Helen S. OTR/L, and Edushape, we're sharing expert tips on the value of toys and play in child development.

Thank you to Helen S. OTR/L and Edushape for sponsoring this featured guest post collaboration by contributing educational editorial content. 

Expert Tips on Value of Toys & Play and Child Development
Let’s Choose Better Toys

Guest Post Contributor, Helen S. OTR/L

Although there has been a greater focus on early education recently, I’ve noticed that we often leave out a crucial component when we talk about child development, and that is the importance of choosing the right types of toys for our kids. We all know that toys, besides being fun and entertaining, serve as valuable tools for learning and development. After all, it is through play that a child’s imagination grows, motor skills develop and become more refined, and social skills become acquired. With so many toys on the market, we must understand that not every toy and not every brand is created equal. Just because a toy is popular and widely available in stores, this does not necessarily make it the most beneficial option. So what should you look for?

Less is more. In other words, keep it simple.

Toys that are brightly colored, light up, sing, dance, and have many buttons can be over- stimulating and overwhelming for young children. These toys also operate mostly on their own, leaving little room for children to take charge and allowing them to become passive in play. During play, children should be as active as possible, steering the experience with their actions and imaginations while the toy remains passive. That’s why it’s better to choose toys that are simple, feature one function, have a clear cause and effect, and allow the child to be more focused and in charge of his or her experience. Whether it’s a puzzle, a board game, or a shape sorter, the activity should be clear, and the child should be actively engaged with problem solving through play.

Look for quality over quantity.

If you have the opportunity to choose a wooden toy over a plastic one, do that. There are many plastic toys out there that are great. However, wooden toys typically leave more room for open-ended play, imagination, social interaction, critical thinking, and problem-solving, as they tend to be less distracting and do not direct the experience for the child. I find the simplified nature of wooden toys to be soothing and calming, allowing for more focused play. Whether a toy is wooden or plastic, quality is more important than the quantity. It is better to have a few timeless toys that help promote a range of developmental skills and that encourage different types of play than to have piles of toys laying around with missing parts.

Look for a sensory component.

Look for toys that that enable children to use different senses. Think of the value of hearing a musical instrument, looking into a kaleidoscope, smelling a flower, feeling through finger paint or touching a textured toy. Toys that encourage the feeling of movement such as running, jumping or steering are also incredibly valuable in supporting physical coordination and brain development. Children don’t always have the opportunities to use their senses as often as they should, and we must make a conscious effort to help them do so. Edushape’s textured Sensory Balls, Floating Blocks, Rattle Bands and baby instruments were all created with this in mind.

Look for toys that promote a certain skill or reinforce a milestone.

Ask what underlying skills each toy will help develop. For instance, if a child is three years old, there are certain motor, cognitive, and social milestones that he is expected to be meeting for his age (e.g., engaging in pretend play and using his imagination). I like to choose toys that will reinforce those milestones. Edushape, a 35 year old toy company that originally catered to preschools, does an excellent job helping parents by listing the skills that are enhanced by each toy. For instance, it is helpful to know that a shape sorter, like the Edushape Ladybug Sorter, not only teaches about shapes but it also reinforces motor skills and coordination. When parents or caregivers do not have a background in child development, this information can be very valuable.
Of course this is just scratching the surface on a topic that deserves much more awareness. Hopefully, wonderful toy brands like Edushape will continue to inspire parents, caregivers and those working with children to think differently about choosing toys.

Helen S. has been a Pediatric Occupational Therapist for over 9 years. She runs an Instagram account (@toy_ideas) sharing innovative developmental toys for children. To learn more about her and receive more toy ideas, check out her website at Toy-Ideas.com.

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