As a parent, you want your child to have the very best chance for success. And if you’re like most parents, one of the most common worries you have is about your child’s future education.
Enrolling your child in the right schools – from preschool right up to their post secondary education – is a concern for many parents. And because you want to give your child the best chance possible, buying them the best possible educational toys is something that’s very important.
But many parents and grandparents aren’t quite sure what an educational toy actually is or how it can really help. So in this article we’ll help you understand what educational toys are, explain why they’re important, tell you about different types of educational toys and give you some tips on how to choose the best educational toys.
What Is An Educational Toy?
The popular definition for an educational toy is ‘a toy that develops a special skill or is about a particular subject’.
To be honest, that definition actually confuses a lot of parents because aren’t all toys meant to be educational in some way? The simple truth is that all toys do have some educational value, some more than others. In fact, playing with most toys can be as much an educational experience for your child as it is fun.
But toys that can be considered educational were being given to kids long before the term ‘educational toys’ was ever coined. In ancient times parents had to be creative and make toys for their kids. Back then, toys for boys may have included wooden swords and bows and arrows; toys that would teach boys how to fight and survive.
Girls, on the other hand, received toys that taught them how to nurture and take care of things, such as dolls and wooden animal figures.
Fast forward to the 1700’s, when the term ‘educational toys’ was first used by philosopher John Locke. Locke made the statement that using educational toys such as blocks or dice with letters of the alphabet on them could enhance a child’s learning of the alphabet.
Today, manufacturers label everything from baby rattles to math games as educational toys without telling perspective consumers exactly what educational value a toy may have. One reason for this is because the actual educational value of a toy depends as much upon the child and how they use the toy as on the toy itself.
For example, for one child a simple ball may be used to provide exercise, build gross motor skills and improve their hand-eye coordination. But another child playing with the same ball may learn about gravity or angles from bouncing the ball off the ground, a wall or other objects.
Although toys are not meant to replace classroom learning, if used correctly they may aid in your child’s learning and development.
Children Learn From A Variety Of Toys At Different Ages
You need to keep in mind that children learn all kinds of things from toys at different ages. Puzzles that teach children to spell simple words won’t mean anything to an infant who is not yet speaking or a toddler who has yet to learn the alphabet.
Math games that require adding and subtracting aren’t going to be much use to a child who is not yet understanding numbers or who has not yet mastered simple counting.
When choosing any toy for your child, you need to choose one that matches their age and stage of development. It’s great for a toy to present your child with a challenge, but that challenge should not be impossible for them to understand and complete.
Skills That Different Toys Can Help Develop
As a parent or grandparent, you want to choose educational toys that teach your child or grandchild a particular skill or set of skills. Some of the skills you might want to help your child acquire:
Physical Skills: Toys that strengthen arm and leg muscles to help your young child learn to sit up, crawl and walk have an educational value as they’re teaching your child a specific skill when they’re younger.
As they grow a bit older toys such as trikes, bikes and scooters all help your child’s physical development. And in later childhood years, jump ropes, pogo sticks, balls and other fun toys will encourage them to be active and build the muscles needed to keep their bodies healthy.
Social Skills: You want your children to have friends and get along well with others and choosing toys that help to build social skills is a great way of doing just that. Toys that encourage communication skills, sharing, taking turns, good sportsmanship, following rules and working in groups will all help your child develop the social skill needed for both school and adulthood.
School Readiness Skills: To get your child off to a good start in school, you will want to choose toys that help prepare them before they begin school.Toys such as coloring books, color and number recognition and counting toys are all excellent ways to prepare your toddler for their school years.
Other great toys are those that help develop your child’s fine motor skills such as puzzles and arts & crafts.
Academic Skills: Once your child has started school you’ll most likely start looking for toys and games that can help boost academic skills such as reading, writing, math and science. To keep your child interested, these toys and games work best if they’re also fun. Through fun interaction and engagement, your child will learn many new skills that will enhance their learning.
Problem Solving Skills: Some toys are designed to allow children to engage in creative thinking and deductive reasoning, which helps them develop critical problem solving skills. Building toys, puzzles and brain teasers are all excellent ways to help your child develop their problem solving skills in a fun and interesting way.
Best Uses For Educational Toys
Here are some ways that educational toys can be used to enhance your child’s learning:
Free Play: Not all learning needs to be directed by a parent or an adult. Giving your child free time to play with toys will allow them to learn a lot on their own. When given free play time, children learn by trial and error and learn about cause and effect. They also expand their thought process through creative and imaginative play, role playing and pretend play. They become wonderful storytellers through the games and adventures they create for themselves through free play.
All of these things help them in many ways as they progress through childhood and become adults.
In School: Teachers know that kids learn faster and better when learning is interesting and fun. Using educational toys and games in the classroom has been a popular tool used by lots of teachers for many years because teachers know those types of tools help maximize the learning abilities of the children they teach.
Teachers have found that toys that are fun and that compliment lesson plans can enhance a child’s ability to learn new material and memorize. Educational toys are also an excellent way to increase young children’s attention span as they keep them more engaged and encourage them to actively participate in discussions.
Homeschooling: Parents who homeschool their children can use educational games and toys to reinforce lessons. Models of things like dinosaurs and other animals can help make learning fun. A variety of puzzles can help support lessons in science, history, geography and much more.
Cards and dice games can help your child with math concepts. Games that encourage your child to spell or to link objects and spelling together can pave the way for your child to develop a love of spelling. The number of ways toys and games can be used to enhance homeschool learning is endless.
Types Of Educational Toys For Different Age Groups
The types of educational toys you purchase and how your child uses these toys is going to depend on the age of your child and how the toy is meant to be used.
Here are some tips we think you might find helpful:
Infants: Because all infants are born without any knowledge of the world, each and every toy your infant plays with will educate them in some way.
In most cases, infant toys are not designed to be used for guided learning but rather for your child to learn by exploration. For example, toys such as rattles introduce your child to cause and effect; stuffed animals and toys with different textures help your infant learn and explore textures.
Mobiles not only soothe your child but introduce them to music appreciation and sound. Blocks help them develop their grasping skills. The list of educational toys for infants is endless.
Toddlers: Educational toys for toddlers are a wonderful way for them to have fun while learning about the world around them. Toys such as blocks with numbers or letters or numbers on them can be used by your child develop counting, number recognition and sorting skills.
Simple puzzles provide your child with an opportunity to develop their fine motor skills and problem solving skills. Simple games help teach your child how to take turns and follow rules. Tea sets, kitchen playsets, pretend food toys, dolls and stuffed animals all help your child develop social, communication and nurturing skills.
As you can see, the list of educational toys for toddlers is endless and includes toys such as coloring books, blocks, toys for sorting and counting and much more.
Elementary Age Children: Once your child reaches formal school age, you may look for toys that will help them succeed in their school work.
Puzzles can be used to provide your child with a way to learn math, science, spelling, reading, geography and other academic skills. Building blocks may teach your child about angles and problem solving as well as help develop their hand-eye coordination and motor skills.
Word games such as Boggle Junior, Scrabble Junior and Hangman make learning fun and that provide a lot of educational value. And there are many games that can teach your child history, geography and science.
Middle School: Great middle school educational toys include advanced building toys, mathematics games and more complex puzzles, all of which help your child expand their knowledge and improve their problem solving skills.
Strategy games and brain teasers can help kids this age develop their math, science, history and reading skills.
Children With Special Needs Or Learning Difficulties: Certain toys can make learning easier for children with special needs or learning difficulties. Being able to physically see and move pieces can aid their understanding.
Small items to count or add and subtract such as small blocks, marbles or other items can help develop math skills and the understanding of math concepts. Spelling puzzles that link objects to words and spellings combined can help children with learning difficulties grasp reading, spelling and problem solving easier and in a more fun way.
Growing plants or having a butterfly garden is a wonderful hands-on way to help kids with learning difficulties learn about science and nature.
Toys that allow a child to type or text can help those who have difficulty speaking communicate with others.
Educational Toys And Games In Classroom Settings
Educational toys and games are extremely useful in classroom settings. They help reinforce lessons while providing children with fun rewards for things like completing their work on time and good behavior.
Although most modern day classrooms are becoming more and more dependent on technological games and toys to inspire and interest kids to learn, there are still many benefits kids can get from using less technical toys in the classroom.
Word games such as Scrabble Junior and Rory’s Story Cubes can be used to strengthen reading and spelling as well as encouraging kids to use their imaginations.
Puzzles of individual countries or states can be used to teach geography and history, as can games like “Where In The World Is Carmen Sandiego?”.
Building toys can encourage critical thinking and problem solving skills. Math games, science games and other toys that can be used to support STEM learning in a classroom setting.
Just like in the classroom, if you’re homeschooling your child, you can use educational toys and games to teach different principles and support learning.
Educational Toys At Home
Educational toys can also be used at home to boost your child’s classroom learning. Science experiment kits, models, building toys, all types of games that involve math skills or reading skills can help your child continue their formal education outside of the classroom.
When parents or other siblings enthusiastically join in, children enjoy the toys and games more and that enjoyment enhances their learning.
Using Educational Toys To Help Your Child Explore New Interests
Toys can also be used as a way to allow your child to explore a wide range of new interests. There are cheap instruments or toy instruments such as keyboards, recorders and drums that will allow your child to explore the world of playing and creating music.
Inexpensive cameras allow children to discover photography, telescopes can help your child explore astronomy and microscopes allow your child to explore a world that’s not visible to the naked eye. There are a variety of toys that allow your child to explore new interests and to help them decide if that interest is something that they want to pursue.
This benefits you as a parent as you’ll get a strong indication of how much your child really enjoys their new-found interest before you lay out big bucks on an expensive camera, musical instrument or other expensive toys.
Tips For Choosing Appropriate Educational Toys For Your Child
Here are a few tips to help ensure that you’re choosing appropriate educational toys for your child:
- Consider Your Child’s Age And Maturity: Chose a toy that is designed for your child’s age and maturity level. You want the toy or game to provide them with a challenge, but you don’t want a toy so far above their capabilities that they can’t be successful as that will leave them frustrated.
- Consider Your Child’s Interest: If your child has an interest in something specific, then choose toys and games that will encourage that interest.When a child finds a subject or area appealing, there’s no limit to what they can learn when that interest is encouraged.
- Consider If Your Child Is Struggling In A Subject: If your child finds one subject difficult and struggles to comprehend important concepts, look for fun educational toys that will offers a new approach. Kids learn through practice and repetition and when they enjoy practicing a concept or learning a subject they are more likely to spend more time doing it and retain more of what they do learn.Do keep in mind that if your child is struggling in a subject area, they may initially be reluctant to play with a toy or a game that reminds them of that subject. If the toy or game has a big fun factor, your child is more likely to want to play with it.
- Don’t Make It All About Learning: As we said earlier, children can and will learn from any toy or game. So the ideal thing is to have a mixture of toys: ones that are more geared towards them learning specific things and ones that simply allow them to enjoy themselves without focusing on learning anything in particular.
As your child progresses through childhood, they will go through different developmental stages. Educational toys are designed to teach your child specific things at specific stages to enhance their development at every age and stage.
There’s no doubt about it: there are many wonderful educational toys for girls, toys for boys and gender neutral toys on the market today. But as we mentioned earlier, any toy has the potential to teach your child something.
By adding a fun factor into the learning process, you’ll stimulate their learning experience and ensure that they’ll want to keep playing with toys and games that can provide them with both education and fun!