How to select toys for children?
This is part-2 of our toy series. In this we run through a simple check list that you can use to decide if a toy is appropriate for your child
Play is the work of child. If you have a toddler or pre-schooler you have heard this a million times but there is so much truth to this cliché. There is an addendum to this, Play is the work of child and toys are the tools of the trade.
In the first few years, we NEED all the toys, anything and everything feels like it will develop the budding brain of our child. We also buy more toys because it looks like something we would like to play with (we have all been there, no denying it). We buy more toys because we saw some other child playing with it. We buy more toys because we saw that pic of a toy in the corner of an image that we saw online, and then some more. We get gifted more toys from friends and families.
Have we ever paused and thought if the toy is appropriate for our child apart from perusing the manufacturer suggested age guidelines? Occupational therapists from the The American Occupational Therapy Association came up with a list of things to consider while buying a toy? We have adapted this list for the Indian audience and keeping in mind the 0-5 years age band of children.
- Is the toy safe and age appropriate?: The first thing to look at is the suggested age range, if the range is too "young", your child may not be interested in it and if it is too "old", it may be frustrating for the child to keep trying and failing. This is why educational philosophies like montessori suggest self- correcting toys for younger children. In India, there are a few regulations on toys but those are voluntary in nature. Imported toys, however have to follow safety regulations as mandated by the government. Always look out for small parts or break away parts that can be a choking hazard.
- Is the toy durable?: Is the toy washable, if yes, by hand or machine? Are the colours and dyes safe? Will it still work after many months of repetitive use? If parts or pieces are lost or broken, is it repairable? Can parts be replaced easily?
- Can the toy be played with in more than one way?: In Part-1 we discussed how fewer toys allow children to engage with each toy more, but what if a toy can be played with only a single way. Case in point, a talking tom cat toy. The only way to engage with that toy is to press that button and hear it's pre-programmed response. On the other hand, open-ended toys like blocks can be used to build, demolish, create 'snakes', 'trains', 'skyscrapers', car chases', 'parking lots'. You get the drift.
- Is it multi-sensorial?: Look for toys that utilize multiple senses of the child. Sight, sound, touch, smell, hearing. An activity cube encourages children to play with the bead maze, push buttons, open doors, or put shapes into the shape sorter
- Is it portable?: Toys that are portable can be used to play anywhere. Always keep a handy stash of drawing boards, crayons, pencils, chalk for some instant play.
- Does it grow with your child?: Is it limited to a small age window or the possibilities of playing with it increases with the age of the child? For instance, a baby play gym can be used by an infant who grows into a sitting, crawling , and walking child.
- Does the toy require use of both hands?: Using both hands to interact with a toy and crossing the midline, both are activities that improve coordination skills. Puzzles, building models, construction, crafts are some examples of these toys.
- Does the toy have parts that need to be manipulated? For instance, buttons, beads, gears etc. Most of the toys in this category will improve fine motor skills and strengthen the muscles of the hands. These skills are important pre-cursor skills to writing.
- Does the toy encourage physical activity and movement?: These are toys that include ways for the child to use their arms and legs to help build physical strength and coordination necessary for catching, kicking, running, jumping, and climbing. Toys like bicycles, balance bikes, trikes, wagons, river stones, Pikler's triangle etc. fit this bill.
- Does the toy encourage thinking or solving problems?: These develop real-life skills like problem solving, critical thinking, lateral thinking. These can be age appropriate like a shape sorter for a young toddler, puzzles for older toddlers.
- Does the toy promote communication and interaction?: Children try out unknown skills and new behavior by way of imaginative play and pretend play. Pretend play helps build social skills. Kitchen set, Doctor set, tool kits all allow children to unleash their imaginations.
- Is the toy worth the cost? This is a practical consideration to keep in mind as well made toys are expensive.
- Is it environmentally conscious?: Is it made of recycled materials?, Is it made of natural materials? Are the paints and chemicals safe? Is it battery operated (as most batteries land in landfills which is very harmful to the environment)?
The right toy can help to support a child’s development and build confidence and teach them new things in a fun and engaging manner. In our next blog in this series, we will talk about 6 categories of toys that your child must have with some fun suggestions from the Indian market.