toys: Looking for the “best” educational toy for your child? You don’t have to try so hard. Here is a simple trick

There is a huge range of toys that claim to stimulate learning, foster creativity, or strengthen children’s science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) skills. The billion dollar global toy market offers bewildering choice, as parent blogs warn of ‘one and done’ toys, Instagram influencers make us feel like we’re falling short, and children, being children, harass us for whatever they want. friends have, or they just saw on YouTube.

But here’s a simple truth: You know your kid (and your budget) better than anyone. And here are some reassuring tips:
it doesn’t matter whether you choose a prescriptive toy such as a chemistry kit or science kit, or an “open” toy such as building blocks or plastic bricks. Any toy can be educational when you play with your kids and talk to them about what they are doing and learning.

All you need to consider are what toys your child already has, how old they are, and what you think they would most like to play with next.

Favorite Toys

Each year, the Museum of Play in Rochester, New York, inducts the toys into its Hall of Fame. This year, Sand was recognized, in the illustrious footsteps of the stick, inducted in 2006.

The full list includes Cabbage Patch, Battleship, Risk, The Settlers of Catan, Mahjong and Billiards dolls, as well as the Piñata, American Girl Dolls, Masters of the Universe, and the Fisher-Price Corn Popper. One of my personal favorites, Uno, made it in 2018, and of course Lego is here, having been added in 2015.

Lego is actually a good place to start!

Blocks are suitable for a wide age range, and you can either buy very prescriptive kits that involve following a plan closely, or general sets that have random blocks to build something totally new and improvised. Or, if you prefer, you can buy various other types of blocks in the market, such as wooden or magnetic blocks.

Regardless of the specific type, playing with blocks encourages kids to plan, build, and experiment with their engineered creations. And, most importantly, they can learn even more if you help them along the way.

Parents’ power

While children play with their blocks, parents or guardians can play with them and engage them in a conversation about the form and structure they are creating.

Try to use positional and relational language to expand their vocabulary by asking questions such as:

* Do you think we can build this tower to be as high as the table?

* How many blocks are there around the base of this building?

* What shape of blocks do we need to build a fence around this house? Or could we use other materials?

* What are you going to put on top of the structure?

Talking with your child while he plays helps him express his ideas and build his vocabulary.

It introduces them to mathematical concepts such as numbers, space and measurement, as well as scientific processes such as observation, estimation, planning and problem solving. It’s a wonderful opportunity to share ideas and talk with each other.


Board games like snake and ladders


Likewise, games like Uno and board games involve hitting a goal, whether that’s getting rid of all your cards or running around a board. This gives kids the experience of winning and losing, and gives them a chance to both plan and strategize, and deal with random elements such as the roll of the dice. Snakes and Ladders and Ludo both involve counting and numbers, as well as the element of luck. They can also often inspire children to create their own games.

Then, of course, there are toys and materials designed specifically to promote STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) learning. But these are not the only ways to improve these skills.

Being an effective STEM learner is important and relevant in the modern world. STEM learning empowers young children to satisfy their natural curiosity for the world around them, to study concepts, to use critical and creative thinking systematically, and to build skills and confidence.

That brings us back to the sticks and the sand, and of course the box the toys arrived in, not to mention the packaging of all the new home appliances you might have bought yourself as a Christmas present!

The fact that kids so often end up playing with cardboard boxes – turning them into a playhouse, race car, or fortress – is a testament to the fact that anything can be a good toy with the right frame of mind.

What really matters is the ability to play and talk with your child. This will give them knowledge, skills and confidence that will be of great benefit to them at any age.


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