As a parent, I am always searching for toys that not only will appeal to my kids, but will also entertain them but also aid their development. When my children were younger, I almost obsessed over how appropriate a certain toy was for the stage they were in and whether it was educational at all. I’m sure I’m not the only one. However, there are so many toys, that it can become quite overwhelming, especially when you go toy shopping for the holidays.
The American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) recently shared with me a few tips for selecting toys that will make the most of play time. Playing is not only fun, but it’s an essential activity that facilitates a child’s social, physical, and cognitive development. It is often through play that children learn to make sense of the world around them.
In case you didn’t know, occupational therapy practitioners are experts in play as it relates to development. Here are AOTA’s guidelines when gift-buying for children.
8 Questions To Ask Before Buying a Toy
Is the toy safe and age appropriate? If the suggested age range is too young for the child, he or she may get bored quickly. If the range is too old, the child may get frustrated and give up, or be exposed to small parts that could pose a safety risk. Be mindful of your own child’s development in terms of his or her strengths, interests, and abilities.
Can the toy be played with in more than one way? Toys that offer unlimited possibilities can tap into the child’s creativity. Blocks can be stacked, knocked down, lined up, crashed into, and even substituted for play food in a pretend kitchen.
Does the toy appeal to several senses? Children’s attention is captured by exciting colors, sounds, lights, and textures. Toys that encourage them to push buttons, move parts, open doors, or sort shapes will often lengthen play time.
Can the toy be used in more than one place or position? Toys that are easy to carry or can be used while sitting, standing, or even lying down make play possible anywhere. Crayons, markers, sidewalk chalk, a baby gym, and plastic rings can be used in a variety of locations.
Does the toy involve the use of both hands? Moving parts, buttons, and gears encourage activity and movement. Construction toys, craft kits, puzzles, balls, riding toys, and toss-and-catch sets all promote motor skill development at different ages.
Does the toy encourage thinking or solving problems? Board games and science kits offer older kids the chance to use thinking skills in a new way, while shape sorters, puzzles, or a Jack-in-the box are great for babies and toddlers.
Does the toy encourage communication and interaction? Dress-up clothes, costumes, playhouses, kitchen sets, and tools can all be used with more than one child to teach cooperation and negotiation and foster imagination.
Is the toy worth the cost? Consider the appeal of the toy and its durability. Can you substitute the toy you are considering with something that you already have at home?
“Play can involve cognitive demands like problem solving, social demands like sharing, and motor and coordination skills like manipulating or activating a toy,” says Sandra Schefkind, MS, OTR/L, pediatric coordinator at the American Occupational Therapy Association. “These tips promote the opportunity to engage the child, challenge the child, and support the child and his or her family in using play to foster growth and development.”
Still need more guidance? The AOTA offers a Checklist for Toy Shopping to help consumers purchase age-appropriate toys.