Picking out the best: The ultimate toy guide
What are we offering our offspring in terms of toys today? It is a taste of our own memories or the call of the day? Picking out the best toys that will help a child thrive during those delicate developing years can get overwhelming with the variety available out there. Here’s what you need to know about toys and their functions.
The true objectives of toys
Try questioning a small group of parents today about the objective of a toy and you might get varying replies. While some may view a toy as something to keep their little one busy or distracted, some find toys as objects that spark off creative thinking or as learning tools. Generally though, parents agree that toys should be part of growing up, no matter how they are used.
When we take into consideration how much time our children spend with their toys, it becomes much more important for us to make conscious choices about what we offer them to play with. As many of us are with the fond memories of toys we loved and cherished when we were young, is it alright to offer our children toys based on what made us happy during our own childhood? Also, how many toys should a child have in his or her toy basket? The more the better, or just a few really ‘good’ ones?
Here, we’ve compiled some ideas on the kind of toys that coincide with a child’s age and we’ll look into different ways of looking at toys and playtime.
Could you be unwittingly restricting your child’s creativity?
A toy, like a doll for instance, with a perfect face and features is certainly lovely to behold, even for a child. In fact, it’s already so perfect, there isn’t much to do with it. However, if a child had an opportunity to create a face for that doll, it would be akin to an unwritten book of expressions that the child can fill up with his or her own creativity. In other words, (dolls aside), present them with finished products, regardless of how beautiful it looks, and we will have unwittingly limited their own resourcefulness. Give them just enough to stir their imaginations and you foster true creativity in children!
Here are some things to look for when selecting toys for your children, according to the Waldorf approach to education through play.
- Good quality, durability
- Anything healthy for humans and the planet
- Natural materials that feel good to all our senses – including visually beautiful toys, toys that feel good to hold
- Toys that can be put away quickly
- Non-competitive, social toys
- Toys that are toys – where ‘learning’ is not forced
Toys for infants from birth through 6 months
Babies are gazers and they love to pass their time staring at people and following them with their eyes. They seem to be fascinated with faces and never seem to get bored studying a person’s eyes, nose, mouth, brows, etc. They also love bright colours, so a colourful, attractive mobile hung over a baby’s crib will hold the little one’s attention for quite a bit.
Great toys for infants:
- Rattles, large rings, squeeze toys, teething toys, soft dolls, textured balls and board books which they can shake about and make some noise with.
- Books with nursery rhymes and poems, and recordings of lullabies and songs which they can listen to.
- Mirrors for them to look into and amuse themselves with.
Toys for 7 to 12 months
Older babies are constantly trying to move around! They tend go from rolling over and sitting, to pulling themselves up, standing and cruising. Their attention span is very short. Most babies this age enjoy trying to find hidden objects, and putting things in and out of containers.
Good toys for older infants:
- When in the mood for some pretend play, they will enjoy playing with puppets, dolls, plastic and wooden vehicles with wheels, etc.
- Plastic bowls, large beads, balls, and nesting toys – anything that they can pile up, stack or take out from.
- Things to build with – large soft blocks and wooden cubes.
- Large balls, push and pull toys, and tunnels to crawl into.
Toys for 1-year-olds
One-year-olds can hardly ever stay put long enough to pay attention to anything other than their favourite TV show! They might enjoy well-narrated stories though, and can also play next to (but not necessarily with!) other children. They like to explore and need constant adult supervision.
Good toys for 1-year-olds:
- Things to pretend with – toy phones, dolls (with doll houses), baby carriages and strollers, dress-up accessories (scarves, purses), puppets, stuffed toys, plastic animals, etc.
- Recordings with songs, rhymes, simple stories and pictures.
- Things to create with – wide non-toxic, washable markers, crayons, and large paper.
- Things to build with – cardboard and wood blocks.
- Board books with simple illustrations or photographs of real objects.
- Large pegboards, puzzles, toys with parts such as dials, switches, knobs, lids, etc.
Toys for 2-3 year-olds
Toddlers are rapidly learning language and have some sense of danger. Nevertheless they do a lot of physical “testing”: jumping from heights, climbing, hanging by their arms, rolling, and rough-and-tumble play. They have good control of their hands and fingers and like to do things with small objects.
Good toys for toddlers:
- Safe wood puzzles (with 4 to 12 pieces).
- Blocks that snap together.
- Objects to sort (by size, shape, color, smell), and things with hooks to hone their building skills.
- Picture books with colourful, intricate details.
- CD and DVD players with a variety of music.
- Large and small balls for kicking and throwing.
- Ride-on toys.
- Tunnels, low climbers with soft material underneath.
- Pounding and hammering toys.
Resist showing kids how to play
It’s important to allow your children to discover the role and objectives of toys themselves. Why show them what they ‘should’ do with a toy when they can have so much fun doing whatever they want to? If parents could just let go of their expectations when it comes to play, they will be rewarded by a peek into a child’s wonderful imagination and potential.
Children need free, undirected play for creative growth, self-reflection, and decompression. Play is a “happy talent” and open-ended play helps foster happy talent in a relaxed way. Here are some of the ways open-ended play works:
- No pressure. With no expectations from parents and no predetermined outcome, open-ended play does away with the pressure of having to accomplish or achieve something out of playing. It allows children to focus on creating based on inner inspiration. During play, children have choices and decisions to make. This format offers great potential for self-discovery.
- No ‘mistakes’. Since trial and error is part of open-ended play, unintended mistakes cause children to pause and wonder. “Errors” produce fascination and foster new creation and when left to their own devices, self-initiating behaviors are developed.
- A sense of true, kiddie freedom! Open-ended play gives children a sense of freedom and autonomy to develop initiative and self-confidence. They enjoy making choices themselves, affirming their ability to be responsible and self-directed.
Examples of good open-ended toys:
- A stick
- A box
- A rope/piece of string
- A cardboard tube
- A spade, a bucket, and some sand
- A ball
- Wooden blocks
- Large pieces of fabric
- A doll
- Jars with lids
What are ‘closed’ toys, then?
Basically, they are toys with specific functions or have a clear, ‘right’ way of playing with them. These toys may come with a manual even, directing parents on the correct way to play with them. Gender-specific toys also fall smack into this category for they restrict imaginative play for little boys and girls and direct them away from avenues of empathy and understanding the opposite gender.
Toys you can do without!
- If it’s broken, throw it out!
- Toys with missing pieces.
- Developmentally inappropriate toys.
- Anything ‘fixed’ in concept. These leave little or nothing to a child’s imagination and your kid will get bored of it.
- Anything that requires you to buy more of to make it work / keep it working.
- Anything that comes with social pressure for you buy more / collect.
- Anything too complicated or that breaks easily.
- Anything annoying, offensive or which encourages corrosive & dangerous play (evil characters / war games).