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Toys come in all shapes and sizes, and range from simple classics like dollhouses and and toy trucks to complex products designed to engage, amuse, and distract. But when faced with a toystore full of options, how's a parent to choose?
When it comes to buying toys, finding one that will hit the spot is easier said than done. The number one pitfall is buying a toy that will fail to catch a child's interest, or only last five minutes before being tossed aside. But, says Champlain College Associate Professor of Education Laurel Bongiorno, there are some ways to tell if a toy will stick.
Chief among the indicators, she says, is the idea that simple, open ended toys are more engaging in the long run than one trick wonders, however expensive the latter may be. “I really believe that parents can get overwhelmed by all these fancy flashy electronic options out there, they get convinced that they should spend their money on that,” she says.
But with basic toys, says Bongiorno, parents will get their money's worth without worry that their purchase will be gathering dust by the end of the day. “If you give a child a toy that does one thing or that they can only use for one thing, like a toy gun, they use it and get tired of it. If you give children open-ended toys they use them one way and think of another direction to move their play,” she says.
Longevity is not the only benefit to open-ended toys. “When children play with open-ended toys, they are discovering and exploring new information about the world around them, or practicing using information they already know,” says Bongiorno, citing problem-solving, cognitive learning, creativity, critical thinking as some of the skills at work.
Wondering where to start? Stow the beeping doo-dads and get out the open-ended toys! Here are Bongiorno's top five best types of toy:
- Blocks. “The best foundational math toy that there is,” says Bongiorno, who points out that block play takes balancing, sorting, and comparing skills as well as geometric language and architectural awareness.
- Legos. These interlocking plastic pieces have never gone out of style, and well they shouldn't. Playing with Legos calls for fine-motor control, color recognition skills, and plenty of imagination – a key component in keeping toys interesting, says Bongiorno.
- Dramatic play clothes. Both boys and girls can benefit from playing dress-up, says Bongiorno. “There are so many things around the house – shoes, hats, outfits that are out of style, old job uniforms – you don't have to spend a penny!”
- Texture play. Making play sensory is an important element to keeping it fun. From sand and water to shaving cream and oobleck, texture play is not only tangible fun for young learners: add some tubes and funnels and you'll lay the groundwork for science later on.
- Art supplies. Too often, says Bongiorno, we think of art as giving a child a specific activity. “If you think of art as play and process, giving them paints, glue, magazine cutouts, feathers, things to explore with, it becomes a real creative activity.”
For more great toy suggestions, check out our grade-by-grade gift guide featuring the best in fun and educational games and toys.
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