It was no contest. Given a choice between a ball and a book, my son would never have cracked a book binding. Giving him educational toys was a lot like giving him medicine. He didn’t want any part of either one. Fortunately, things have changed a great deal in the 20-odd years since he was a youngster. Educational toys, just like children’s medicines have come a long way. Children’s medicines taste good enough that tiny tykes will resist taking them only a little and learning toys have become a lot more enjoyable. For example, today there is great educational software for the family PC.
Now, that isn’t to say that you can walk into a toy department or a top quality toy store such as Toys R Us and randomly start slinging items labeled ‘educational toy’ in your shopping cart. You must take care when selecting educational toys. Fortunately, the ‘educational’ aspects of the toy can be kept well hidden behind the fun the child derives.
Toys such as jigsaw puzzles, word games, Disney games, word puzzles and other learning toys are great cognitive educational toys. These toys require that the child use his or her imagination. They develop creativity. They make the child think.
These games and educational toys have another, more important, aspect. They are fun. The child has fun while learning to use his or her imagination and reasoning skills. Children learn through play and these toys are the tools of play. They are the tools of learning.
The key is selecting cognitive development skills and educational toys that are appropriate for the child. For example, teaching a three-year-old to read or do multiplication may seem like a cool idea for your little prodigy, but it is much better to make sure the child is having fun reciting the alphabet and counting numbers with the help of interactive Disney toys, books on tape and other such toys. When the learning play is fun, the child will progress at his or her own pace with only minor supervision from you. Frustrating the child by expecting too much, too quickly will actually retard learning.
Jigsaw puzzles are another example of great educational toys. They teach the cognitive skills of learning the relationship between sizes and shapes. They also teach fine motor skills in putting the pieces of the puzzle together.
The second key is to tie educational toys and learning to the child’s current interests. These interests change as the child develops. Learning is much more fun if it is associated with something that has already captured the imagination of the child.
Educational toys do not have to be about thinking and learning. The second category of educational toys is those toys that develop physical skills such as coordination and fine motor skills. Babies begin learning coordination with a rattle. Legos are great toys for teaching the fine motor skills required to assemble the blocks.
It is much easier to encourage most youngsters to play with toys that help teach physical skills because stored energy and growing muscles demand stretching and movement. Given the opportunity, what four-year-old won’t ride a tricycle miles and miles around the dining room table or up and down the front sidewalk? While riding the trike, the youngster is developing strength and coordination, both of which are important for future development.
The various ball games that children enjoy are important for the same reason. They help the youngster develop strength, agility, speed and coordination. They also go one step further. Because most ball games are team sports, they teach concentration, teamwork, good sportsmanship and strategy. These are all important cognitive and emotional skills that will be necessary for the child to develop into a well-rounded and productive adult. So, Mom, the next time your youngster picks up a ball and begins playing with it, you might look at it as a valuable educational toy.