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Meaningful Playtime: A Quick Guide to Educational Toys

Toys are a vital element of youth and, it's a fact, children love playing with them! Children learn through play and toys can assist in refining cognitive and motor skills, improving physical and mental health, and even boosting social-emotional development. Parents, nannies, and teachers often use toys as tools for learning or entertainment and while every toy is designed to provide entertainment and foster creativity in children, some toys are specifically designed to provide a learning experience.

There are many types of toys. Educational toys, for example, are designed to teach a specific set of skills, while open-ended toys, are multipurpose and may be used to engage children in a variety of activities with or without an educational purpose.

With so many options on the market, selecting high-quality toys can be overwhelming. Choosing toys that are functional, instructional, challenging, and multipurpose is an excellent way to expose children to constructive entertainment and learning. With this quick guide, we will show you how to pick the best educational toys that will help your children engage in meaningful playtime.

Less is best!

Focus on quality, not quantity! A series of studies have found that access to too many toys can decrease the quality of playtime in children. Fewer toys allow a child to focus and interact creatively, resulting in healthier play and improved cognitive development. Too many toys can shorten children’s attention span, overstimulate or overwhelm them.

Keep the playroom stocked with toys that appeal to the child’s interest and abilities to stimulate curiosity and draw their attention.

Maintain a Toy Rotation Schedule

Have too many toys on display in your play areas? Consider toy rotation! Display toys are more appealing to the child at that time and include a few toys that are outside of the child's comfort zone to challenge them. Then, store the rest out of reach. When a child loses interest in a toy, put it away and replace it with another one from storage.

Maintain a consistent toy rotation schedule every two to three weeks to keep children interested and engaged! Remain flexible to alter the time frame per the child's needs.

Toys Should Match your Child’s Interests or Abilities

A toy must capture the attention of the child before it can contribute to their cognitive, physical, and social development. To ensure success, pick toys that are age and developmentally appropriate as well as reflective of your child’s interests or skill set. The ideal toy should be challenging enough to keep the child interested and focused, but not so demanding that it frustrates or prevents them from playing. Include their favorite characters, colors, shapes, themes, and even textures.

Be creative! If a child is fascinated by space, consider purchasing reusable stickers so the child can build a spaceship out of magnetic tiles and use the stickers for the nose cone or flight deck, or create a universe from a box with planets and stars.

Don't force a toy on a child! If the goal is to get the child out of their comfort zone or try new things, introduce or display the toy during a rotation and observe the child’s reaction. Work to find toys that have something in common with the toys they already enjoy and love.

Prioritize Open-Ended Toys

Open-ended toys are intended to develop and stimulate children’s imagination and creativity. They allow children to engage in playtime without following any guidelines. These toys can serve multiple purposes meaning that there is no right or wrong way to play with them. Parents, nannies, teachers, and caregivers can utilize them as tools for structured educational play, and children can experiment, test, or create during independent play. In a sense, these toys grow with your child as they are not intended for any specific purpose or skill. A few examples of open-ended toys are:

  • Lego bricks. Look for the sets that have a variety of pieces and colors and not the ones that need to follow a building guide. If the child is under 3 years old, Lego Duplo bricks or mega blocks are great options.

  • Play-doh or modeling clay along with cutting, rolling, and shaping tools. For little ones, you can make edible playdough.

  • Wooden building blocks. Select sets that offer multiple shapes and sizes to encourage children to build, design, engineer, problem-solve, etc.

  • Magnetic tiles or magnetic blocks. Choose the ones that offer the most shapes, colors, and sizes.

  • Toy animals, vehicles, persons. Search for realistic toys that can help the children identify real-life objects, animals, people, or other real items.

  • Dolls, stuffed animals, or puppets. Those can be used to create a story or play.

  • Sandbox or kinetic sand. Great options to let the imagination fly, pair it with plastic cookie cutters.

  • Playhouses, play kitchens, play food, and utensils offer opportunities for pretend play.

  • Train tables with removable train tracks. Though train tables have a purpose, choosing the removable train tracks can help children create roads.

  • Easel with painting or coloring materials.

  • Dollhouses or toys related to everyday interactions such as pet stores, grocery stores, fire stations, etc.

  • Toy musical instruments.

  • Costume