The toy industry forms a huge component of our lives as parents. Perhaps you are a new parent and you are concerned about the amount of toys available for your child, or perhaps you are interested in why some toys are seen as educational. Are some toys more beneficial to your child than others?
In this piece we will try to clarify some of the issues you may have around understanding what educational toys are and why you should be concerned about the types of toys you buy or make for your child. We will cover some of the aspects of educational toys and childhood development.
Educational toys as a label
On the one hand, some of the confusion around education toys comes from the idea that not all toys are educational, where on the other hand even a cardboard box can be an educational toy. So how do we determine when a toy is specifically an educational toy, and if it will be beneficial to your child (and your pocket)?
In some ways the term educational toy is an advertising name. It has been used by marketers as a way to prove to parents that a toy is a good choice to buy because it has the added value of being educational.
But a toy labeled as an educational toy is not necessarily more educational than other ‘normal’ toys. Any normal toys could be very educational depending on the age of your child and the type of toy. Basic toys like balls, blocks and puppets can be great for the development of your child, just as toys designed around various sensory engagement and developmental stages.
Children and their development
The key thing educational toys are focused on specifically is that they are more effective when it comes to helping your child develop intellectually, emotionally, socially and physically. These toys are designed to fit certain goals in terms of the skills your child needs to develop by a certain age.
The type of toy that is suitable to a toddler will of course not have the same intellectual stimulation for a child heading towards school. Simpler toys that encourage your child to recognize different colors and shape relationships, like fitting a certain shape into a certain hole develops hand eye coordination and patience as well as logical reasoning as a toddler of around 1 or 2 years. But this type of toy will not encourage development in a pre-school child.
An older child would benefit from more sophisticated toys where more manipulation and interaction is required, such as a complex puzzle or a ball game, even games that are seemingly too complex can be great for children starting school. The benefits of chess for later logical reasoning and problem solving for example, have been proven by various studies.
Educational toys are suited to certain development stages and this is why some toys can be seen as educational to a toddler but would just be something to play around with and keep boredom away for a few minutes for an older child. An educational toy usually provides some level of challenge. The most important thing is, of course, interaction.
What about fun?
Educational toys can take many forms and of course can and should be fun for children or they will move on to something that entertains them, or end up doing something passive like watching television. Of course not all passive activities are bad, reading is incredibly valuable and some computer games can also develop fine motor and reasoning skills.
Finding joy in something and experiencing different emotions is just as important in becoming a fully rounded adult as problem solving or motor skills. Education and developing those all-important skills do not have to be at the cost of fun.
When children have fun when they play with a toy or game, they will develop skills and be more willing to continue with the activity. In this way, open-ended toys can be great. These are toys that are not prescriptive and can be used in various ways.
Puppets or dolls and building blocks stimulate your child’s imagination and the toy can become different characters in a game, or blocks can be anything from a tower or complicated city. One of the best types of educational toys are art supplies.
Crayons and paints are a wonderful way to get into creative development and can become a lifelong passion. Even coloring has proven to be children’s activity that has immense value to adults.
If children enjoy puzzles or basic ball games as children it is something that can provide them with a relaxing and enjoyable activity later in life. Sometimes the activity or toy will not necessarily help in their development, but keep stress away, keep your mind active and can be something that you share with family and friends as you grow older.
Games and puzzles are also great for seniors, it keeps connections in our brains active as we age, so a fun educational toy can have value whether you are 3 or even 83 years old.
Almost all toys can be educational in some way and the best thing to do is think about the age of your child and what type of stimulation they might need. Some toys are designed specifically to be used as part of a developmental stage, such as toys that encourage the understanding of sound and touch for young toddlers.
But not all toys that were designed to be educational will always be something your child enjoys. Don’t worry, this is not a problem, most other basic toys that form part of games that can develop your child’s social, intellectual and motor skills.
Something as normal as a soccer ball or a paint brush, can be very educational and give them hours of fun while they build relationships, muscles or amazing creative skills, that will help them to become well-rounded and balanced adults. They key thing to remember is that any toy can actually be educational, it just depends on how your child engages with it.