Toy shop shelves are laden with toys claiming to be educational. For toddlers and babies, this usually means something noisy, requiring batteries. I have always held that there is little educational value in such toys. In my experience children play with them for a short period of time before moving on to something else.
Alison Gopnik discusses the manner in which children experiment with toys in her book the Philosophical Baby. A toy that worked by moving levers was presented to a group of 4-year-olds. The adults demonstrated to the first group, how it worked, while the second group were left to work it out for themselves. The second group spent significantly more time playing with the toy than the first, who quickly abandoned it once they understood its function.
Another recent study led by Professor Anna Sosa of Northern Arizona University focused on children between the ages of 10 and 16 months old. She gave families three different kinds of toys to play with; books, traditional toys like stacking blocks and electronic toys. The toys that stimulated most conversation were books, closely followed by blocks. The families playing with the electronic toy shared very little conversation, allowing the toy to do the talking for them.
If you are considering which toys to buy for a young child, these points may help.
- The most important resource we can give to babies and toddlers is ourselves. Spend time playing tickling games, singing to them, playing rhyming games, blowing bubbles or rolling a ball.
- Other suitable toys for babies and early toddlers include small musical instruments for exploring sound ( saucepans, spoons and homemade shakers work equally well), a treasure basket or board and cloth books.
- Think about toys that they will play with for a long time. The best toy investments for our family include magnatiles, wooden blocks, paper and pencil, a magnetic drawing board and play food.
- Toys do not need to be expensive. Children can have hours of fun with a balloon, pot of bubbles, home-made play dough or a cardboard box.
The infographic below has many more developmentally appropriate ideas for play.