Most kids have oodles of toys. In fact thanks to baby showers, many kids have a nice toy collection even before they are born. While children's playthings are meant to be fun for them, many parents and grandparents prefer to seek out toys that are both fun and educational.
Are Educational Toys Necessary?
Toy manufacturers are more than happy to provide parents with choices that they can feel good about when making purchases for their kids. After all, there is a huge market for kids' toys, making toy manufacturing a very competitive and profitable business. While choosing toys that are specifically labelled as "educational" may make adults feel good about their purchases, child development experts might say that although there is certainly no harm in buying these types of toys, children can reap both educational and developmental benefits from playing with a variety of simple objects.
Stimulating the Imagination
Ideally, toys should have more than one "right" way to play with them, often making the simplest toys the best ones to stimulate the imaginations of children. While kids may enjoy playing with electronic toys and gadgets, they are not typically designed to encourage independent thinking. Basics, such as building blocks, dolls, crayons, and puppets all provide children with opportunities to think and create, important for cognitive development. Parents have joked for generations that after spending a small fortune on a "must-have" toy for their children, the kids often have as much (or more!) fun playing with the box that the toy came in.
Toys that encourage interaction are especially beneficial in that they have the added benefit of encouraging children's social development. Costumes and dress-up clothing, puppet theatres, craft supplies and board games allow children to stimulate their minds while helping to develop vital social skills. Parents should make every effort to play directly with their children and to encourage interaction with other children through playgroups or neighbourhood get-togethers. Kids do a great deal of learning without even realising it while they are simply playing and having fun.
Learning through Imitation
Ask any mother who has tried to prepare a meal while her young children are playing underfoot and she will tell you that the simplest way to keep them occupied is to hand them some bowls and wooden spoons and ask them to "cook." Children love to imitate the activities that they see their parents and carers engaging in, which gives smart parents ample opportunities to combine learning with play. Asking little kitchen helpers to measure ingredients or to count out place settings provides them with valuable learning experiences. Scaled down versions of cooking gadgets, gardening tools, or other adult gear help kids to master new skills.
Science and Technology
As kids move into middle childhood, they can benefit from toys that encourage learning through scientific experimentation. Chemistry sets, microscopes, telescopes, and digital building tools all help to promote strong thinking skills. While many parents aren't keen on their kids spending too much time playing repetitive video games, technology has provided for some very stimulating children's playthings. Kids who begin building simple model cars, for example, can advance to assembling small motors for their vehicles, expanding their base of knowledge while encouraging their individual interests.
Keeping it Fun
All parents want to help their children to reach their full potential, but adults need to remember that kids learn the most efficiently when they are relaxed and enjoying themselves. Grilling children and requiring them to memorise lists of facts may fill their heads with a lot of information, but for kids (and the rest of us) to really understand how things work, they need to have some hands-on experiences. You can tell a child how to build a sandcastle, but they will enjoy it more and remember it longer if they are taken to the beach with a bunch of buckets and a picnic lunch!