Are we buying our children the wrong toys?

By Natasha Sim | Parents Avenue’s Writer

Is there even such a thing as the ‘right toy’? According to experts, yes there are ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ toys for our children. The right toy engages our children’s imagination and creativity: we call this an open-ended toy. These are wooden blocks, dolls, playhouses, LEGO Duplos, costumes, and even boxes that can be turned into a car, rocketship, play kitchen etc. You get the idea. 

But most of the time, we get advertised the ‘wrong’ kind of toy. These are usually the fancy, battery-powered toys that looks incredibly fun. On the contrary, ‘wrong’ toys do all the playing for your child. The ‘wrong’ toy sings, so your child won’t have to. It moves with a push of a button, so your child wouldn’t need to imagine themselves as a car, train, plane or whatever vehicle the toy attempts to mimic. These battery-operated toys do not encourage self-directed play as would an open-ended toy.

Play is the work of childhood and toys are the tools for play. The right toys can make or break a child’s ability to play independently – look, I’m not trying to scare you, but toys are a surprisingly big deal.” 

Play is the work of childhood and toys are the tools for play. The right toys can make or break a child’s ability to play independently – look, I’m not trying to scare you, but toys are a surprisingly big deal,” wrote Susie Collins of @busytoddler. 

Seeing as gift-giving season is right around the corner, Parents Avenue rounded up some opinions about toys that could help us in finding that perfect gift for our kiddos.

#1 Ask ‘what can this toy do for me?’

The more ways a child can play with a toy, the more they will learn. We can ask ourselves when looking for a toy: what can I do with this toy? If you can find more ways than one to play with a toy, it’s highly likely your child will do too. 

In this category are toys such as wooden blocks, vehicles with small people, dolls, train tracks and the likes. These are toys that let your child lead the play, instead of the other way around. Chances are if a toy only allows for your child to stare and gawk at it for a while: it’s not the right toy. 

Not so surprisingly, these are the toys that are simple in construction which lets a child’s imagination and creativity take the lead. On the contrary, the more buttons the toy has, the more complex it becomes with all its functions and knobs, thus limiting the set of self-directed actions your child can do with the toy.

#2 Look for toys that can grow with your child

Again, toys like LEGO and wooden blocks can grow with your child. These are toys that are as much fun for a toddler as they are for a 7-year-old. I remember having purchased a set of magnetic play tiles for my then 1-year-old, but the toy ended up being played with by his older 6- and 7-year-old cousins too. 

Then there are realistic animal or dinosaur figurines that are great for younger kids to learn animal sounds from; and for older kids to imagine being on a safari. 

Dramatic play kits too are something that can be enjoyed by all age groups. These can be your doctor and/ or play kitchen sets; superhero, policeman, fireman costumes etc. Also, a good thing to note is that ALL TOYS ARE GENDER NEUTRAL. Toys do not discriminate. A boy can play with a doll, as much as a girl can. Playing with dolls can teach a child about what it means to care for a younger baby sibling, for example.

#3 Children do not need a lot of toys

Last but not least, children really don’t need that many toys to begin with. Play is serious learning,  but our house do not have to resemble Toys R Us. Toys are first and foremost not a distraction. Toys are tools. What we can do is to invest in a few good tools for our children.

Good tools (that happen to be toys) can be: puzzles, a drawing easel, Wobbel board, Grimm’s rainbow, 100 board, realistic play tools, sock and finger puppets etc. 

As it turns out, research has shown that children are able to engage in more creative and imaginative play with fewer toys. The same study showed that the quality of play improved with toddlers when they were offered fewer toys to play with. From the study, “young children ‘are more likely to play in more sophisticated, advanced ways with fewer toys present.’

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