Learning through play is incredibly important for a child’s physical and emotional development. By playing with toys, children learn a variety of vital skills that form an important foundation for future learning. So what kind of skills can a child develop when playing with toys and how much can a child really learn? Which toys develop certain skills? And how should you choose a toy?
Physical and Mental Skills
From birth, children need stimulation to help develop their physical, social, cognitive and language skills. Toys help reach these development goals and there are even particular types of toys which work best for different skillsets. Physical skills are honed with toys that encourage reaching, pinning, grasping, running, climbing, crawling and balancing. So, climbing frames, tricycles, wagons, dressing up and sports equipment are ideal. Cognitive skills are developed through playing with colours, shapes and sizes – puzzles, jigsaws and memory games are excellent examples.
Creativity is developed through ‘open-ended’ toys and games such as crayons, dressing up, play dough and painting. Through these actions, children use their imaginations much more. Developing language skills is obviously vital too – so any toys that encourage vocal play work well. Think of action figures and puppets which encourage role play. Similarly, social skills can be developed through co-operation, negotiation and any game that encourages taking turns. Again, use action figures or play centres such as fire stations, farms, train stations, kitchens. These all encourage social development as the child learns how to create and play with different characters.
It Doesn’t Matter What Age You Are
There are of course different toys that are appropriate for different age groups. From birth to 1, consider stacking toys, musical or squeeze toys and pop-up products. Up to the age of 3, push pull toys are excellent for development plus crayons, cars and tricycles. From 3-5 years, children respond to dressing up, action figures and puppets, storybooks and puzzles. At age 6-9, the level of skills need deepened – go for sports equipment, model building or crafts and play sets that need built from scratch. From the age of 9, children will benefit from creating with arts and crafts; playing sports and reading more complex books to spark their imagination.
Ask Questions Before You Buy
If you’re responsible for buying toys, the following questions might help with your purchase: will the toy teach? Will it boost self-esteem? Does it help nurture childhood? Does it provide a way to practice hand-eye co-ordination and hone fine motor skills? Will it produce creativity? Can the child use it without assistance? Does the toy help express emotions? And finally, is it fun? Children will only engage in toys that are fun.
As a parent, your role is to spot any stumbling blocks or problem areas; foster an encouraging environment and be creative. If you lead by example, the child’s learning through play will flow!
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