When you walk down the aisle at Target or scroll through pages of toys on Amazon looking for the perfect toy for your kids, it is hard to know what to pick. I am passionate about toys and how they contribute to a child’s development. Do you remember being a child and playing with dolls, trucks and balls for hours?
The toys our children play with tend to look a little different. They often require batteries, involve lights and sounds and take away much of the creative aspect of play. Today, many of the most popular toys play for your child, instead of your child doing the playing. I can’t overemphasize how important it is for our kids to be the ones doing the playing. It builds nerve connections in their brains and allows them to build the skills necessary to be successful in school, friendships and sports.
If a car is electric and moves on its own or makes its own noises, then your child won’t use their imagination to make the noises and decide how fast that car will move. The best toys for our children’s development are toys that allow the space for creativity and have multiple uses.
Here a few tips to look for when you are choosing toys:
Choose wooden toys or toys made of natural materials. Plastic doesn’t allow your child to engage with texture and explore their tactile sense. When children engage their senses through play, they build nerve connections and strengthen their sensory systems for more complex problem solving in the future.
Choose open-ended toys. This means toys that don’t have one set way to play with them. For example, blocks or nesting cups can be used to build a castle, could become something else (like pretend dishes.) or could just be counted and stacked.
Pick toys that don’t use batteries or a charger, and that don’t light up or make sounds. We want kids to be using their imaginations to make the sounds. The simplest toys provide endless ways to play and encourage a child to exercise their imagination and creativity.
Keep it simple. Simple toys that can grow with your child are both a great economical purchase and great for development.
Use household materials. Make that Amazon box into a canvas, crumple paper and dip it into paint for a textured painting or make a sensory bin filled with your extra rice and beans. Sometimes the simple things you find around the house are the most fun (and lend themselves to lots of creativity.).
Kids learn through play. It really is the foundation of all learning. It’s so important to pick toys that encourage development while our kids are playing. As we fill our playrooms with toys that play for our kids, we see more and more kids who struggle to think outside the box, use their imaginations and jump into play. But this problem is something we can solve. The creativity muscle is still there. We just need to exercise it. Keep it simple, bring back the toys from our childhoods, and have some old-fashioned fun.
Dr. Allie Ticktin is a licensed occupational therapist with a specialty in sensory integration and early childhood development. She is the founder of Play 2 Progress, a play-based learning center with locations in West Hollywood and Studio City, an online studio, and a developmental toy line. Her book, “Play to Progress,” will be published next year.