Children learn through play. It doesn’t really matter what they’re playing with, they’ll learn from it.
For example, playing on an inflated slide teaches coordination and the less pleasant lesson that if you fall off things, it will hurt! A spinning top helps hand-eye coordination and so on.
However, there are some toys that have a strong evidence base for being particularly useful.
Some of our top tips for those are listed here.
Reading – and therefore books
True, it’s stretching things a bit to put books under the category of “toys” but in one sense, they serve a similar purpose.
Children who read regularly and are encouraged to regard this as leisure and fun (hence ‘toys’) are consistently shown by studies to have a happier and more successful schooling than those who do not.
It is as simple as that.
Expression toys (arts and crafts)
Anything that generates a ‘result’ for your child to admire, is advantageous.
Craft toys often result in them building things and seeing the result – which is why some building block toys are fantastic. Your children learn things about proportionality, structure and of course again, hand-eye coordination whilst building.
Art can be more interpretive but that’s fine. Some splashing-about painting, for example, develops children’s sense of shape, colour and form.
These are also great.
Dressing-up or toys that make say a pretend garage with plastic tools, can be hugely beneficial in terms of stimulating children’s imaginations.
On this one – do be prepared to join in the fun and dress up or be a pretend customer of the garage!
This really means those involved in physical play that’s a little more than say just pushing a toy car along the floor.
Like the slide example above, toys that involve running, pushing, pulling, climbing or manoeuvring, are all essential in helping to develop your child’s physical control. If they can involve another child at the same time, then their social and co-operative skills will also be enhanced.
There is also now ample evidence that exercise is critically important to good health and that in turn is linked to learning.
Examples might include climbing frames, bat and ball, basketball hoops, football and so on – all possible – even at younger ages.
Of course, safety must be paramount and all sensible precautions must be taken. In most cases, this sort of play also needs to be supervised. However, with these sorts of toys, one must accept the risk of minor spills and some tears. It’s part of learning and growing up.
There is a huge amount of unnecessary mystique surrounding this area, with some claiming these sorts of toys should be banned.
In fact, there are excellent games on various pieces of technology, some of which are fantastic at helping children with things such as early reading and numeracy etc. However, use sparingly and IT should not become the default play area for younger children – there is simply too much else they should be experiencing.
Keep choice down
This may seem an odd recommendation because it is more to do with how kids use their toys.
Even so, in some homes, it’s possible to see a phenomenal variety of toys at the children’s disposal. That may seem generous but it can lead to fragmentation of attention, with younger children moving from one toy to another after just a few minutes, without ever really getting the best out of any of them.
So, be reasonable but don’t overdo it in terms of the numbers and variety of toys they have to play with.