It’s the holiday season, time for buying toys for the children in our lives. As we do, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) encourages us to think about buying toys that can actually help children as they grow and develop.
Play is the work of children. That doesn’t mean it can’t be fun; of course play should be fun. But play is at its best when it encourages learning and development, and when it encourages interaction with other people. So many gifts these days are full of bells and whistles and cool electronic gadgets, but don’t really help children (and are often quickly discarded). The AAP thinks that when buying gifts for children we should think more about getting back to basics, and suggests we think about toys from traditional toy categories:
- Symbolic/pretend play. These toys are the building blocks for imaginative play. They are things like dolls, animals, dollhouses, kitchen sets, tool sets, dress-up costumes, or puppets. Children can use them to create their own stories, doing it differently each time. Simple is best: toys don’t need to walk or talk or do anything, really. It’s better to leave that up to children.
- Fine motor/adaptive/manipulative. These are things like actual building blocks and other building sets, train sets, or puzzles. These are toys that not only encourage children to build and create, but also encourage fine motor skill development and early math (and even engineering) skills. There are apps that allow kids to build things digitally, but using their hands is best; nothing outdoes the three-dimensional approach.
- Art. Nothing encourages creativity and fine motor skills better than drawing, painting, and building with clay. So buy paper, crayons, markers, paint and paintbrushes — and modeling clay. They are inexpensive gifts that can keep children happy for hours. There is something very powerful for development when children have to start a project from scratch, like a drawing from a blank piece of paper.
- Language and interaction. This is where books come in — there is nothing better for learning new words, and appreciating words, than books. And when they are read aloud, in someone’s lap, they encourage interaction, which helps children flourish. Games encourage interaction too; traditional board games can be fun for everyone, and bring people together.
- Gross motor. In general, we are a sedentary nation — and most children do not get the recommended hour of physical activity every day. So make it easier for them. Buy them a bike or a trike, or a basketball and a net, or a soccer ball or a jump rope. Anything you do to get them moving not only builds strength and skills, it builds habits that can keep children healthy for the rest of their lives.
That’s the thing: when we get back to basics with toys, we not only give children hours of fun, but we’re helping them learn skills and strategies to grow into happy, healthy adults.
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