A trip to the toy store is a fascinating experience, yet it is a dangerous place where parents and children can get lost among the aisles, never to be heard of again. Or at least not after many hours of exhausting search and heart-breaking decisions. Every bright-colored toy is so tempting it’s hard to decide which to choose.
Many parents favor educational toys and with good reason, they’re specially designed to enhance a child’s development and help him build new skills. Here are a few tips to help you pick the best educational toys for your child.
Consider your kid’s interests
Many of the educational toys you’ll see on any best-seller list are geared towards helping a child improve their STEM skills. The simple mention of STEM on the box makes many parents automatically reach for their credit cards. Science and math are surely important, but what if you’re child is not interested in science? Maybe your kid would love a drawing set or a construction set. Always remember toys are for playing!
On the other hand, if your kid is fascinated by science you have plenty to choose from. Look for hands-on experiment kits that will allow the child to grasp the basics of science or chemistry, simple electronic kits, or games that introduce basic math concepts and geometric shapes.
Low-tech vs High-tech
The average preteen spends at least two hours a day in front of a screen, so you should try to look for low-tech toys. Any toy that comes with a new screen or requires a connection to an iPad or mobile phone app will only compound to the problem. Besides, screens are a form of passive entertainment, whereas a child needs hands-on experiences – games that educate the mind, but also encourage perseverance and creativity. Younger kids need toys that improve fine motor skills and hand-to-eye coordination, something high-tech toys do not offer.
Look for age-appropriate toys
If you want your little boy to be a genius – what parent doesn’t want that? – you will be tempted to buy toys that are too sophisticated for his age or requires skills your child doesn’t have yet. Children are highly intuitive and they can adapt to play difficult games well above their age and developmental stage. They’ll understand how, but not why. According to experts, such an approach is dangerous. Instead of forcing kids to do something they’re not developmentally ready for they should be allowed to develop at their own pace and acquire the necessary skills before moving to the next level.
The importance of pretend play
Have you ever watched kids running around the playground pretending to be pirates staging a fierce attack on the other team? Nobody tells them to go and play at pirates. It comes naturally to them and you should keep in mind how important it is for children to use their imagination and make-up stories. Kids need dollhouses, play kitchen sets, medical kits or shopping tills with pretend money. They learn by imitation and this pretend play is a way of preparing them for their lives as adults.
Toys that promote collaborative skills
If you have more than one child, make sure your house is well-stocked with board games they can play together. You will be called to arbitrate many game disputes, no doubt, but it is also a way of bonding and, in time, the hours spent playing their favorite game will become precious memories.
Puzzles and building sets are less dangerous as they encourage collaboration rather than competition. Children learn how to help each other and the basic fact that working as a team is always better.
Such simple games are great for any child, puzzles improve the abilities to focus on a project and stay determined. This is a very important school and life skill – there is a solution to the problem and if you work hard enough you will eventually find it!
When you look at a toy think about how many hours of fun it can provide. If it’s something the kid might play with only for a day or two is it really worth it? You’ve done all the experiments in the set or listened to all the songs the teddy bear has in its memory, and the toy is not much fun anymore. There are many basic toys a kid can play with over and over.
Lego sets are so popular because you can reuse those pesky little pieces hundreds of times. The sets add up until a child has thousands of bricks to build new things.
The same goes for the humble Play-Doh which a child can use one day to make animals for a zoo, while the next day he can create pretend food or a zombie army. Or an erasable sketching pad, that’s the sort of toy a kid can use for years.
All the new toys on the market touted to be the best educational toys ever are quite pricey. Older kids will probably ask for them because they’re all the rage, but with younger children, it’s generally you who decides. Ask yourself this – why should I buy this very expensive new toy when I could get two or more older models which were released a few years ago? At that time they were also touted as the best in the world, were they not? Buying more toys for the price of one, your child will have more choices and won’t get bored so easily, and they all have educational value!
Books don’t count as toys, although they have a greater educational value than anything you might find in the toy department. If you want to encourage your child to read and appreciate books, include at least one in any birthday or Christmas present from an early age. They won’t get as much attention as the shiny robot or the pretty doll, but you’ll be sending a powerful message – books are valuable!