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By Rose Garrett
When it comes to buying toys, finding right one is easier said than done. Even the fanciest, most expensive toy can sometimes fail to capture a child's attention. Laurel Bongiorno, an early childhood education specialist, says that simple, open-ended toys and activities are sure to keep a kid's interest and support mental development. So shelve those beeping electronic doohickeys and check out these five basic toys that captivate and grow little learners.
Blocks are the best foundational math toy there is, says Bongiorno. They introduce the idea of balance and develop basic comparison and sorting skills relating to different shapes and colors. Painted blocks are also a good tool for building vocabulary. When playtime comes around for your baby or preschooler, sit down with her and name the colors and shapes as she grabs them. Then, help her group and stack them too. Playing with blocks cultivates a basic awareness of architecture, says Bongiorno, and teaches kids about how things fit together to form a structure.
These interlocking plastic pieces have been around since 1949 and still haven't gone out of style. Legos are particularly great for kids who've grown out of blocks, exercising fine-motor skills and spatial awareness. To maximize the imagination factor, get a set of random pieces instead of a themed package based on a movie or specific setting. That way, your child will be free to make his Lego creation original and unique.
Dress-up time isn't just for girls. Think of all the wacky clothes, hats, and accessories that you can find at a secondhand store or even tucked in the corner of your own closet! That colorful, tacky scarf is a perfect pirate sash, and Grandma's old costume jewelry would make any make-believe princess proud. Dress-up is a thrifty way to encourage kids' creativity, self-discovery, and even empathy as they put themselves in other peoples' shoes—literally!
Who doesn't love the feeling of running your fingers through a soft pile of sand? Encountering new or strange textures has a way of fascinating big and little kids alike. When something inspires a child's curiosity, what's her first instinct? To touch it! Set up a sensory table for a fun, tactile activity. You can even sow some seeds of scientific wonder and make some Oobleck, a magical, goopy mixture that's both solid and liquid!
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Arts and Crafts
Doing arts and crafts is a tried-and-true way to have fun and get kids thinking outside the box. Pre-packaged art kits are great, but to really unleash your little one's creativity, give her a variety of paints, magazine cutouts, feathers, buttons, and other materials to experiment with purely out of her own imagination, says Bongiorno. Arts and crafts aren't just great for growing your child's artistic interests—the creative process develops problem-solving skills and an eye for innovation in every subject.
It's great news! You don't need to spend a pretty penny on the latest electronic gizmo for your kid to have fun and learn during playtime. Kids are the most creative folks out there—simple toys make the most of your little one's big imagination, and they're easy on your pocketbook, too. That's a win for everyone!
Stop by our activities page for endless hours of creative fun for kids of all ages.