Educational toys are all the rage worldwide as parents begin to realise the importance of early cognitive stimulation. Dr Jean Piaget once said: “Play is a child’s work”. This poses the question – what tools will best equip your child in fulfilling the momentous task of understanding the world?
You are your child’s first teacher. Scary stuff, but there it is. That little being you created, he or she comes into this complex world without a clue. It is up to you to equip them as best you can on their journey to discovery. Living in an age where every single product comes marketed to the hilt| this is no easy task. Type the words “educational toys” into any internet browser and instead of in-depth reports on the correlation between play and motor function you get links to a myriad of toy stores. Sucks to be a consumer sometimes, doesn’t it? You simply can’t go about taking people, blogs or forum posts (or even this article) at their word any more – you have to check it out for yourself. The following should give you a good foundation in your quest for clarity.
As the promised world-wide recession continues to put pressure on consumer purse-strings, the educational toy category is one of a few surprising growth areas in an increasingly saturated toy industry. This can be ttributed to a new-found belief that parents need to supplement school-based learning, especially with regards to an ever-evolving job marketplace. Marketing teams pounce on this kind of development and hence you now find every purveyor of kids’ toys parading the ‘educational benefits’ of their products.
The simple truth is that whether your child plays with illuminated Rubix cubes, small purple elephants, canisters of holy water or pieces of string, they will always learn. All experiences develop the brain. Many years of research have shown that experience creates neural pathways in the brain. Specific types of experiences stimulate various areas of the brain, which in turn corresponds to both physical and mental skills. Thus, you have to decide what specific set of skills you want to develop before you set out to go shopping for kids’ or baby toys.
During your child’s first developmental stage (from birth to 18 months), they take part in their own learning without any real understanding of what is happening. The type of play they engage in at this stage is called ‘sensorimotor play’ and at first involves mainly early reflexes, which then evolves into intentional action. A baby is interested in watching, tasting and touching everything in the strange and wonderful world around him/her. Thus, their first playthings are the senses. At this stage of development it is important to remember that your child has very limited vision, so invest in toys that are brightly coloured, vary in texture and makes high, tinkly sounds.
From eighteen months onward, your child begins to separate themselves from the the world around them. This is the time to give them lots of opportunity to play, experiment, talk, and enjoy their surroundings. Toddlers are mainly interested in getting around, using their exciting new bodies to learn interesting things. Objects from the ‘real’ world excite them most. Playing with pots, pans, telephones, umbrellas and gardening tools (or their toy equivalent) gives toddlers a sense of accomplishment because they are allowed to use the things grown-ups do.
It is at about the age of three to four that children develop an interest in constructive play. Children at the constructive level manipulate objects and materials in their world to achieve a planned end product, such as a chalk picture, a block tower, or a sand mountain. They enjoy drawing, building with blocks, digging in the sand, and so forth. As children become skilled in manipulating objects and materials in their environment, they also become more skilled in expressing thoughts, ideas, and concepts.
By the age of five, children become interested in structured games that have rules and, at times, have two or more sides. Games with rule play are paramount during the middle childhood years, a time when children’s thought patterns become more logical. It is at this level of play that children begin to realize that activities such as Red Rover, Simon Says, and card games will not work unless everyone follows the same set of rules.
These developmental phases are not set in stone, sometimes they may even overlap. Every child is unique and special. Additionally, if you, as a parent then take the time to observe their actions and development closely it will be easy to anticipate their needs. So, instead of taking a bunch of advertising executives and parenting books at their word, why not trust yourself and your knowledge of your child the next time you go into a toy shop in search of educational toys?