There is ample evidence that toy play is a very important aspect of child development. Children of all ages enjoy playing with toys and the different roles they play in their fantasy and make-believe games, but toys are more than simple playthings. Studies have shown that children learn through every part of their body, and many toys offer hands on learning opportunities that can instill basic skills that will benefit them for the rest of their lives.
Did you have a favourite toy when you were a child? It went everywhere with you, and you loved it more than anything else. That was because that toy was crucial to your development as you were growing up. Toys are accepted as commonplace in households with children, but they’re more than entertainment. They’re actually important for the child’s development.
Why Are Toys So Important?
Firstly, let’s look at why toys are so important for your child. At first glance, toys are simply there as a form of entertainment for them. The reality, is they are so much. When your child is just a month old, they can start using toys to help understand the world around them. When they play, they’re building skills that are crucial for good development.
It’s important to remember that a toy isn’t just something that’s specifically sold as such. A toy can be anything, from a set of keys to a cup or even an empty toilet paper tube. A toy can also be a creative tool. Items like paint, play and pencils are all toys that help a child understand the world.
When you think about toys, you’ll think about something they play with in their spare time. In fact, they’re learning through their toys. Giving them a jigsaw puzzle helps them recognise patterns, and get their brains working to figure the puzzle out. Even younger children will get a lesson in physics, when a building block tower falls over.
Even before your child sets food in the classroom, they’ll be learning through their toys. If you’re giving them access to plenty of toys, then they’ll be able to start learning from a very young age.
How Toys Affect Development
‘It’s amazing how many ways your child grows, just through play’ says health writer Bridget Harrison from Nextcoursework and PhD Kingdom. ‘Every time they play, they’re developing a whole range of skills they need to develop.’ Here’s how the toys your child plays with affects their development.
Improve creative thinking
When your child is given a set of toys like building blocks, pretend food or dolls, they will use these to create narratives as they play. The toy becomes more than what it actually is. The blocks become a castle, the food is part of a pretend restaurant, and the dolls become a family just like the one the child lives in.
When they’re doing this, they’re working to make sense of the world around them. It also helps them see things mote broadly. Being able to come up with scenarios like this is important, as later in life they’ll need to be able to imagine scenarios. Being able to think outside of that box is vital.
Most children will play creatively with anything that’s on hand, too. Have you ever given your child an empty box to play with? That box could be anything, from a blank canvas for their drawings to a rocket ship. Having items like this also helps them to develop their creativity.
Develop motor skills
Whenever a child is manipulating a toy, they’re developing their motor skills. Let’s take dolls as an example. Children will be developing skills as soon as they are handed a doll, as they can be easily held and carried. They’re often designed to be moved into certain positions, so the child will need to manipulate them to do so. They’ll also develop their skills through playing with the dolls’ clothing. As they use velcro strip, buttons or zippers, they’ll get practice with fine motor skills.
There are plenty of toys that help children develop gross motor skills, too. You can give them a pogo stick to jump on, or a ball to kick and throw around. When they’re given the ability to master these tasks, they’ll be developing those skills.
As well as physical skills, children need to be able to emotionally mature in a safe environment. Toys are the perfect tool to help them do that. Think back to your own childhood. When you had a favourite toy, did you sleep with it at night? Did you ever bring it with you to a scary situation, like a doctor’s appointment? You probably did so, as these toys were how you interacted with your feelings.
When a child has a favourite toy, they are practising bonding in a healthy way. When you play with them, it in turn helps them bond with you. It helps them create great childhood memories, and create great futures for them as they could fully experience childhood.
When your child goes to school, they’ll start learning about important skills like maths and language. Even before they get to school though, they’ll be learning them through their toys. As mentioned earlier, every time they play they’re learning how the world works.
Different toys will teach your child different cognitive skills. For example, a board game helps them develop concentration and memory, while building blocks help with problem solving. Having access to these toys helps them develop these skills before they ever go to school.
Social skill building
As a parent, you want your child to be able to make friends and interact with others in a healthy way. When they play with toys, they’re learning to do just that. They help children interact with you at first, and then with other children around them.
When they play with another child, they’ll develop skills in sharing, respect, and cooperation. These are all essential skills for later life, so you’ll be setting them up for success in the future.
The Best Toys For Every Age
You’ve seen now that toys have an incredible impact on children, in so many different ways. If you want them to get the most from their play, you’ll need to ensure they have the right toys for their age. Here’s what you can provide your child at every age, to help them learn skills in an age appropriate way.
1 to 12 months old
When your child is very young, they’ll get the most out of toys that help stimulate their senses. Anything that they can manipulate to make a sound, or feel different textures on, will be great here. As they get more active, you can introduce more toys that will teach them cause and effect. For example, if they press a key on a toy, it will make a sound. Toys like soothers, stacking blocks, crawl around play centres and more are perfect here.
12 to 24 months old
As your child becomes more mobile, you’ll want to bring in toys that help improve balance skills. Stride and ride toys and push cars are perfect here, as they’ll help your child improve their balance as they’re having fun. Themed sets are good here too, to help them improve recognition skills.
2 years and up
At this point, your child can start expanding on the toys they have, and the skills they can learn. For example, physical play toys are perfect for introducing motor skills into play. A tricycle, for example, works here. When you introduce these toys, you can also introduce safety. Give them a helmet with the tricycle, and they’ll learn they can only play on it if they’re wearing the helmet.
Now’s the time to introduce cognitive skill building toys, too. These are especially helpful as your child is getting ready for school. If you can introduce some basic concepts here, they’ll recognise them when they come across them in the class room.
Toys that help children with writing are always a winner. Kinetic sand and drawing easels will help children understand the concept of making shapes and letters, and they can of course practice their own name with them.
Games and books are also important here, when it comes to literacy. A book about a cat, for example, will help your child associate the picture of the cat, with the word ‘cat’. They’ll also become more familiar with books and how words look on a page, so you can set them up for learning to read.
Choosing The Right Toys
Now that you’ve seen how much toys can improve your child’s development, you’ll need to pick out the right toys for them. That’s going to feel rather overwhelming for you, when there’s so much choice out there. How do you find the right toys for your child?
‘Remember that toys aren’t always what you find in the store’ says educator Daniel Peters from Brit Student and Originwritings. ‘A child will happily play with anything, and will do when there’s nothing else available.’ Don’t be afraid to give you child non toy items to explore. For example, when a baby is young they’ll be fascinated by your house keys. They make a jangling noise when played with, and of course there’s lots of textures to explore.
The empty box is a classic non toy ‘toy’, as a child can do almost anything with it. Give them other items too, that can expand their creativity. You can use household items in creating art work, such as empty toilet paper rolls, and the classic macaroni on paper. If you give them anything like this, ensure the materials are safe and age appropriate for them.
As for regular toys, remember that quality is key, rather than quantity. A child may have lots of toys, but you’ll hear from them that they’re bored, or that they’re dealing with a lot of emotions during play time. That’s a sign that they’re overwhelmed by the toys they have. As you’ve seen, children will develop emotional attachments to the toys that they have. If there’s too many, then they can’t do that.
To stop this happening, pare down the amount of toys they have. You can help them develop attachments to the toys they have, and you’ll stop toys from cluttering up the space you have.
When choosing toys, use the age recommendations as a guide. These will help you see if the toy is appropriate and safe for your child to play with. Plus, they’ll be designed to help your child develop skills that are right for their age, too.
Finally, take the lead from your child. Of course you won’t pick up everything they want in the toy shop, but you will be able to see what draws them in. If they have a favourite character, there’s probably a whole range of toys that will suit their needs.
As you’ve seen, playing with toys is actually crucial to a child’s development. When they’re able to play with the right toys, they can develop all kinds of skills that will set them up for later life. Find the right toys, and your child will be off to a flying start.
The best toys for your child are those that they can develop an attachment with. It means that the child has the potential to continue to play with their wooden toys as they grow into childhood and adolescence. This enables the parents to spend time with their children, watching them play and progress. Wooden toys are attractive, good-quality and will last a long time. So choosing wooden toys for your baby or child is a good investment. Wooden toys are a perfect fit for any family and are an excellent choice for shower watching when you’re buying new toys for your child!
Michael Dehoyos is a content market and editor for Academic Brits. He’s written for a wide variety of publications both on and offline. He also works with businesses to improve their marketing strategies.