Toys and Children’s Educational Development
Children thrive best in an atmosphere of play. It is an essential and important aspect of their development. Studies have shown that play contributes to the cognitive, physical, social, and emotional well-being of children. Play gives children a great opportunity to develop and practice new skills at their own pace by following their unique interests.
Toys have proven to be the best means of engaging children in one form of play or the other. Toys offer an ideal and significant opportunity for parents to engage fully with children using toys as an instrument of play and interaction.
How Toys Affect the Educational Development of Children
Toys engage children’s senses, spark their imaginations and encourage them to interact with others. Babies are eager to learn about the world around them, and they have much to learn. Hence, every new shape, color, texture, taste and sound is a learning experience for them. It helps them develop their senses and stimulate their developing vision.
Toys such as blocks help them build motor skills and hand-eye coordination. The same blocks they played with a year or two ago can still provide them with new and different educational opportunities as their knowledge expands. Shape sorters teach children how to match similar items and provide parents the opportunity to teach them the names of the shapes.
At preschool age when children start to learn about letters, numbers and language skills, there are toys that encourage this type of learning, such as alphabet puzzles. These toys provide a perfect foundation for learning in schools. The good thing about toys is that it affords children the opportunity to have fun while practicing the things they are learning.
Once children find an educational toy they really like, they will be more likely to play with it, reinforcing the things they have learnt. Children can learn a lot from playing. When children are given educational toys and play with them, it gives them a chance to bond, learn, and have fun at the same time
The perception and idea parents have of how toys can influence their children varies. There is a great lack of understanding in the critical role toys play in facilitating early brain development in children. Another challenge for most parents is the ability to choose the right and suitable toy at the right age for children.
What is a Toy
A toy can be defined as an object made, purchased, or found in nature that can be used for children’s play. Toys could be electronic, or made of sensory-stimulating noise and light toys; or digital media–based platforms with child-oriented software and mobile applications suitable for their individual age.
Toys help in shaping the development of a child. They greatly influence the cognitive, affective and psycho motive skills of children.
Types of Toys
The above definition clearly gives a broad division of toys. They can either be traditional or electronic. Traditional toys are those set of toys that do not involve any electronic computing. They can fall into the following categories:
- Symbols e.g. dolls, action figures
- Fine motor and manipulative toys e.g. building blocks, shapes, puzzles
- Language concept toys e.g.toy letters, card games, board games
- Physical motor toys e.g. tricycles, large toy cars
These are toys that have integrated new elements not previously available within traditional toys, such as sensory-stimulating toys into them. These new introductions especially for infants (for whom the strong visual engagement and neurodevelopmental consequences) have revolutionalised the concept of toys. These include:
- Stand alone electronic game devices
- Video games
- Electronic or virtual versions of traditional games
This gradual migration and change from traditional to electronic toys has greatly introduced complications in decision making when selecting toys because of the rapid proliferation in the use of mobile device applications by children.
Toys are essential in early child development in relation to their facilitation of cognitive development, language interactions, symbolic recognition, problem-solving, social interactions, and physical activity, with increasing importance as children grow from infancy into toddlerhood.
Toys help promote the use of words and narratives to imitate, describe, and cope with actual circumstances and feelings in children. This ultimately helps develop language development, self-regulation, symbolic thinking, and social-emotional development. It also support fine motor skills and language and cognitive development and predicts both spatial and early mathematics skills.
The use of toys by children in physical activity (such as playing with balls) has also proven to have the potential to facilitate gross motor development together with self-regulation and peer interaction because of the negotiations regarding rules that typically take place.
The best toys are those that match children’s developmental skills and abilities and further encourage the development of new skills. Hence there is need to carefully access and analyze the child before choosing a toy.
Choosing a Toy
In choosing toys for children, there is the need to consider the potential benefits and possible harmful effects of toy choices on child development; and the promotion of positive caregiving and development when toys are used to engage caregivers in play-based interactions with their children that are rich in language, pretending, problem-solving, and creativity.
There are toys that have the ability to “grow” with the child, in that they can be used differently as children advance developmentally. An example is the building blocks which can be used by both a 9-month old baby and a 6-year old baby, but with different end results.
In general, toys that are most likely to facilitate development are those that are most enjoyably and productively used for play together. This helps to build rich language experiences and verbal interactions that form the foundation of their growth and development.
Toys can also help children develop the essential skill of learning by discovery through “guided play,” in which children take the lead, but parents support them in achieving the set goal.
There are toys that easily facilitate imaginative play and problem solving. These type of toys are more appropriate for older children.
Factors to consider in Choosing a Toy
- Buy Open-ended Toys. Generally, the rule of thumb is to choose toys that can be used in a variety of ways. This helps to save cost and reduce boredom in children. Children easily lose interest when a toy performs one single repeated task. Open-ended toys are the best. They help to kindle children’s imagination and help to develop problem solving and logical thinking skills.
Examples are: Building blocks, Interlocking blocks e.t.c. An interlocking block toy can be used to make a road, an house, a zoo, e.t.c.
- Buy Toys that can grow with Your Child. These are toys that can be fun at the different developmental stages of the child. This helps to sustain the fun while learning takes place.
Examples are: Plastic toy animals and action figures
- Buy toys that stimulate children’s imagination. These are toys that spark the imagination of the child. They help to build language and literacy skills, problem solving skills and the ability to arrange things in logical order.
Examples are: building blocks, action figures, toy tools
- Buy toys that encourage exploration and problem seeking. These are toys that give children the opportunity to practice new skills repeatedly. They also encourage them to figure out things, while building the hand-eye coordination. These toys develop problem solving skill in children and build their logical thinking skills.
Examples are: Puzzles, shape sorters, nesting blocks
- Buy toys that encourage children to be active. This helps to develop the psycho- motive domain of children. It also helps build strength and confidence in them.
Examples are: tricycles, balls, pull toys