Today, when parents go into a toy shop, they are greeted by the sight of a bewildering array of toys claiming to be both educative and entertaining. But all this comes for a price. Parents spend a fortune buying toys, wanting to do the best there is for their children. However, most parents find that they spend more time playing with these toys than their children do.
Toddlers are at the stage of discovery in their lives. They come across new things around every corner. Given the competition, toys often fall sadly short in the long-term interest department. However, that does not mean that toys are redundant because household items are not going to offer a sufficient challenge to a toddler's rapidly growing abilities in the long run.
SOME TIPS FOR SELECTING THE "RIGHT" TOYS
(1) Try to keep the toys solid and simple. Avoid toys with sharp edges or that have toxic paints because toddlers have a tendency to put everything into their mouths. A toddler's concept of play usually involves bashing the toy about a few times and maybe even hurling it across the room for good measure. Obviously, delicate mechanisms are a no-no. Go for durability.
(2) A ball is a toddler's delight. She can kick it, throw it, bounce it, roll it and crawl after it. It is portable and she will be delighted if she can carry a large, but light beach ball around by herself. In addition, the ball is a tool for initiating social interaction. The toddler rises that when she throws or rolls the ball to someone, they usually throw it back.
(3) Speaking of toys that encourage interaction, toy telephones top the list. You and your toddler could entertain yourselves by having pretend conversations. At a later stage, you will find that dolls, stuffed toys, toy utensils, etc. also encourage role play and fantasy activities in your toddler.
(4) Toddlers can hardly be expected to 'read' at this stage in their lives. They usually begin their reading careers by turning the pages of a book back and forth. Thus, it is advisable to buy books with stiff cardboard pages with large colourful images. As the toddler's attention span, memory and language skills develop, she will appreciate books in which there are pictures she can point to and name. Later, she will graduate to the story book stage.
(5) Parents often buy form boards and stacking rings for their toddlers as they are under the impression that toys like this facilitate the toddler's learning of colours, shapes and forms. There is no evidence to support this presumption. Children do not need to be bought special toys for this purpose as long as they have free access to household items. Children in this exploratory stage tend to take things apart and manipulate them, which may not be the best way to handle household items. Thus, the only advantage of these toys is if they are durable and inexpensive.
(6) Puzzles are usually beyond a toddler's capabilities. However, two and three piece puzzles are now available and could be tried out. Since your toddler's small muscles may not have developed enough to allow for the precise movements necessary to manipulate the puzzle pieces, look for those that have small knobs or handles attached to the pieces.
(7) Toddlers normally love to draw and colour. They will scribble on any surface including the walls. Initially, they have trouble holding the pencil or crayon and tend to make wild strokes. They may also show a preference for one particular colour and ignore all the others. Thus, buying your toddler colouring books might be a little premature. Give her an endless supply of rough paper to try out her artistic skills. Colouring books may be provided once her small motor skills are further developed and she becomes interested in stories.
(8) Simple mechanical toys enhance the development of small muscle skills. Toddlers are usually fascinated by toys that contain levers, push buttons, dials, hinges, etc. that they can manipulate in different ways. E.g. Small hammering toys and peg boards, or large interlocking beads that can be pulled apart and pushed together. Such toys have far more value than fancy battery-operated toys that do ten different things all by themselves.
(9) Toddlers enjoy playing with building blocks. However, it is advisable that parents buy blocks made of lighter material like cardboard or plastic other than the traditional wooden ones. This will make the blocks easier to 'construct' with. Also, keeping in mind that children enjoy knocking down their constructions almost as much as they enjoy making them, blocks made of lighter material will cause less damage.
(10) One last tip. Don't worry if your toddler doesn't play with the toys you buy her like it is shown on the box or the way that your neighbour's child plays. Every child has their own way of playing and they do learn.