Updated: Aug 25, 2019
Many parents find themselves at a loss when faced with the dilemma of getting the right toys for their children. With so many options to choose from, toy shopping is quickly becoming one of the most daunting parental tasks. It does not have to be so!
Whether your child is 6 months old or 3 years old, make sure you keep the following ten things in mind when on a lookout for new toys:
SAFETY FIRST Safety is paramount. Do your due diligence and evaluate all potential toys by checking for age related dangers (your pre-schooler might be fine with small parts and strings, but your 6 month old most certainly will not). Remember that some toys may become unsafe in a group environment (for example, heavy wooden blocks can hurt another child if thrown in anger). Try to think of toy safety as something that will allow both you and your child to relax and have fun.
KEEP IT SIMPLE Research shows us that plain play objects (such as balls, blocks, containers, etc) contribute most to our children’s development because they awaken their creativity. Open-ended toys do not direct the child’s play by singing to them or asking them to press buttons. Instead, they let the child lead the way with their imagination. As Magda Gerber, early childhood educator and founder of RIE®, once said “Passive toys make active babies”. Simple toys are simply the best!
FIND THE RIGHT MATCH When selecting toys for your child, try to look past the labels. Just because something is advertised as appropriate for ages 6-18 months, it does not mean that your 1 year old will find it entertaining. A good toy is one that is neither too simple (thus providing no challenge) nor too difficult (and therefore frustrating). Spend some time observing your child during play and see what interests them. Are they experimenting with sounds? Working on their fine motor skills? Are they constantly on the move? Toys that offer children best learning opportunities are those that address their current developmental needs.
LESS IS MORE Somehow all new parents end up with a pile of toys that is three times the size of their new baby. As tempting as it may be, do not put all toys out at the same time. Studies have shown that having too many choices can make us stressed and unhappy. The same applies to children! Less toys means they can focus better and for longer stretches of time, plus they are forced to use their imagination more.
ROTATE, ROTATE, ROTATE If your child has access to a limited number of toys at a time, you can offer them variety by rotating the selection. When you notice that your child is no longer interested in that wooden rattle, perhaps it’s time to retire it to the storage. Rotating toys ever so often offers your child an opportunity to see old toys in a new light. You will be surprised how much mileage you can get out of toys that are only available from time to time.
TIDY UP? THAT DEPENDS If you want your future 4 year old to neatly arrange their toys at the end of the day, make sure you set a good example from the beginning. Or so you were told. Remember however that your child could be in the middle of creating something great, even if it's not immediately obvious to you. Be sure to observe how your toddler has been playing with their toys, and then ask them if they are ready to put them back. They might be in the middle of something that they wish to continue tomorrow!
PROVIDE "LOOSE PARTS" In 1972, architect Simon Nicholson developed the Theory of Loose Parts. It is the idea that materials or loose parts which can be toyed with, carried about or redesigned create many more opportunities for creative play as compared to static resources and environments. When looking at materials, ask yourself how much of the toy / material / activity can be tinkered with or re-invented by the child?
THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX When picking toys, look for different textures, sizes and weights. Try to have each of the following materials amongst your available toys: wood, BPA-free plastic, silicone, stainless steel, and fabric. Look for things with different textures (bumpy, crinkly or soft) and different weights (heavy and light).
BRING OUTDOORS INSIDE Children are instinctively drawn to nature (if only they got more exposure to it!). As soon as you notice that your child is ready to play safely with smaller items, you can add some shells, stones, sticks and so forth to their play area. These objects offer a wonderful sensory experience as your child discovers different sizes, shapes and textures straight from Mother Nature.
TAKE A STEP BACK When your child is playing, take a moment to simply observe them. Children are little scientists and what might at first look like a random activity is often an elaborate experiment. Try to refrain from stepping in and showing them the “right way” to play with a toy. They know what they are doing! Besides, who said your way is the “right way”?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Kasia is a Polish girl who has lived all over the world. Married to a Brazilian journalist, she took a break from her corporate job to respond to the calling of being a full-time mother to her son. She is an avid diver and also a capoeira aficionado. Four years ago, she hung up her boots and made Singapore her home. She finds joy in teaching capoeira to young children and runs Chapter Zero playgroups out of her home.
Kasia holds certificates in Early Childhood Education and Playwork Perspectives. She also co-founded the Respectful/Mindful Parenting Singapore group on Facebook.