Five Tips To Choosing Toys that Promote Learning

12/17/2017 09:16 am ET

Toys play an important role in child development. The right toy can inspire imagination, encourage movement, and help develop a variety of foundational developmental skills, but finding the right toys to help develop these essential skills may be challenge.

Helen Sadovsky, a Pediatric Occupational Therapist with over 9 years experience, has noticed that many kids have the same few common toys, which while popular did not present optimal learning opportunities. In response, Sadovsky created her popular Instagram account to encourage parents and caregivers with children of all abilities to buy better toys, because how and with what children play really does matter. She also founded Personalized Toy Ideas, which provides parents with appropriate toy suggestions specifically for their child's interests, play skills, and abilities. Below, she shares her guidance and tips for navigating the toy isle.

Choose Toys With Intention:

Choose toys with intention, rather than what’s popular, because the choose you choose for your children matter. Instead of having a shape sorter with 4 thick plastic rings, a shape sorter with 6 thinner wooden rings gives an opportunity for learning more colors, more precise use of eye hand coordination, and greater need for sustained attention. It also provides more opportunity for size comparisons and counting.

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 the child 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 own actions and imaginations while the toy remains passive. 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 their experience are best. Whether it’s a puzzle, a board game, or a shape sorter, the activity should be clear and the child should be actively engaging and problem solving in play.

Toys should promote age appropriate skills and milestones: Ask yourself which underlying skills each toy will help develop. For instance, if a child is 3 years old, there are certain motor, cognitive, and social milestones that they are expected to be meeting for their age (e.g., engaging in pretend play and using their imagination). Choose toys that will reinforce those milestones. It’s key to note the importance of keeping toys age appropriate, as toys for a younger age group won’t help develop new skills, and children may not be ready to get the most out of the experience when rushing ahead to toys for an older age group.

Choose good quality and materials: Choose a wooden toy over a plastic one because wooden toys typically leave more room for open-ended play, imagination, social interaction, critical thinking, and problem solving, as they tend not to have electronic components that can be distracting and direct the experience for the child. I find the simplified nature of wooden toys to be soothing and calming, allowing for more focused play. Wooden toys are also natural, more durable, and more tactile, having slight variations in weight and texture for little hands to explore.

Varying sensory components are important Toys should enable kids to use different senses. Think of the value of hearing a musical instrument, looking into a kaleidoscope, smelling a flower, or feeling through finger paint. Toys that encourage the feel of movement such, as running, jumping, or steering are also incredibly valuable in supporting of coordination and brain development.

Five of Sadovsky’s favorite toys from the CHITAG 2017 fair and why are:

1) Bounce OFF by Mattel

· Promotes eye hand coordination when trying to get the ball onto the correct spot on the grid and visual perception-which is the processing and understanding of visual information when trying to replicate patterns from challenge cards. Promotes directionality by figuring out which side or orientation each ball needs to be positioned in relation to the other. This skill is needed to know which way to direction to form letters when writing. Promotes turn taking, sustained attention, pattern recognition and teamwork. Promotes grading pressure and Motor Planning as children have to determine how hard and which side to bounce the ball so that it lands onto the correct spot.

· Kids as young as 4 can learn to play songs on this piano, promotes color recognition, visual perception, and visual attention, maintaining focus on one thing that is most important to complete a task byfocusing on a few colors to play certain notes rather than getting distracted by the whole piano. Promotes ocular motor skills-shifting attention from piano to the booklet without losing place (skills needed for reading and writing), fine motor skills-finger isolation by using one or two fingers to press the buttons. Finger isolation is needed to complete various fine motor tasks. Also promotes self-esteem as you’re actually playing real melodies from songs.

3) Build OR Boom by Goliath Games

· Promotes shape recognition, eye hand coordination, visual perception, sustained attention, and quick reaction time.

3) Ice Cool by Brain Games

· Works on fine motor skills-finger isolation by flicking the pieces, eye hand coordination, sustained attention, and following directions

4) Shark Bite by Pressman Toy

·Promotes fine motor skills, eye-hand coordination, turn-taking, Color and Shape Recognition, following directions, visual attention and is engaging for little kids.

5) Race Car Maker Dough Set by Green Toys

· Builds fine motor skills by manipulating the dough accessories. Promotes sensory Play by manipulating and exploring the texture and temperature of the organic dough. Promotes imaginative play as kids get to use their imaginations while building different designs and creations.

It can be hard to figure out the right toy for your child that will not just promote developmentally appropriate skills, but will also keep her interest, but by being intentional, you can ensure that playtime promotes learning.

Contributor has no interest in anything or anyone mentioned.

This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and posted freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.
CONVERSATIONS