When you purchase gifts for your children why not think beyond entertainment to how the toys and equipment enhance their thinking and physical development?
Babies learn through their senses
Babies are explorers and they use all their senses to discover and explore. I call it sensory intelligence! Multisensory mobiles can be strung across the crib within your infant’s reach so they can seem feel and hear the mobile jangling. Once baby is sitting, rolling or crawling, toys that move, like a ball with a bell in it, will be a source of delight. A tip to remember is that when babies reach for something, wait until they have fully extended their reach. If you pre-empt the process and move it into their hands, they don’t get the full benefit of negotiating the eye-hand coordination and developing the depth perception required. And don’t be surprised if everything they grasp goes straight into their mouths. The mouth is just one more of babies’ ways to know the size, shape and texture of the world!
Toddlers are developing their motor mechanisms to negotiate space and time
Toddler are learning how to coordinate and strengthen their trunk, arms and legs. This is often termed gross-motor development. To learn control, they use their proprioceptors, sensory nerves located in muscles, tendons, and joints throughout the body.
Toddlers love things they can climb into and things they can pull along. When you buy the ever-popular pull-along wagon, you might find that the box more entertaining than the toy! They love being in enclosed spaces. A small tepee, or even bridge table covered with blankets to create an enclosed space, will delight them. As an addition to the pull-along wagon, make available small collections like blocks or plastic containers for loading up.
Preschoolers develop their fine-motor skills and communication
In the preschool years, children perfect their fine motor movements. This is great preparation for writing. Construction toys like Duplo, Lego, wooden blocks, Lasy, Meccano, Sticklebricks or K’nex are great investments because they will be used for years to come. While kids construct, they learn about shape, size, number and many laws of physics like having stable foundations, balance, force and gravity. K’nex even has working parts to teach the basics of electric motors and mechanics.
Preschool years are also a good time to stimulate the imagination. Costumes and props for dramatic play like dolls, puppets, Playmobile, tea sets, farm, animals and vehicle sets are good.
The Primary years are important for emotional intelligence and teamwork
Primary school children are ready for team games. Board games, cards and Twister will be good. Players learn to win and lose gracefully. This is a crucial life skill.
The primary years are when buying good quality sports’ equipment can pay off. The young brain and children’s low centre of gravity facilitate mastery of body motion in space. As hesitant as some parents are, skateboards, snowboards, roller blades, scooters and mountain bikes could be the start of healthy activity, friendships and even athletic competition. Parents will be surprised how well young children are accepted and mentored at skate parks by older, more competent young athletes.
Less active logic games are important for projecting outcomes and consequences. Chess, Mastermind and old-fashioned Cluedo are on the list.
Some modern toys combine hands-on construction with online scenario games: ‘Lego Hidden Side Newbury Building Kit’ is an elaborate haunted house. Once the haunted high school is built, kids can connect to the compatible app to battle ghosts and solve mysteries. And to continue the digital theme, coding is a hugely important skill for the 21st century. There are many coding toys, like robots and there are also free online beginner coding games.
The tweens and teens develop strategic thinking and general knowledge
All kids love video games. Obviously, you want to limit the time kids are on devices. However, the skills learned as they play are highly underestimated. They learn to monitor a range of considerations when planning and strategising their way through virtual plots, levels and landscapes. Their 3d spatial perception and reaction speeds are mind boggling. Besides this, their ability to rotate and reorientate things in their minds is exceptional. There are so many of these games, it’s hard to recommend any particular one. My own children loved Portal and a game by a Melbourne game designer, Alexander “Demruth” Bruce called ‘Antichamber’. Video games are great training for maths, design and architecture!
If you don’t want to buy your teens digital games, there are board games that build some of the same skills. ‘Minecraft Builders and Biomes’ is complex and requires strategizing. Players have to consider multiple options as they play and it certainly develops arithmetical knowledge and strategic thinking. Other strategy games are Pentago, a more interesting kind of tic tac toe; Swish, a pattern matching game with transparent cards that requires players to reorient the shapes in their mind to match between two and four cards; and a great game called Quarto. Quarto is like four in a row, but with multiple features. You don’t’ only line up discs. It has 3d wooden pieces of different heights, colours and shapes. So, you have to keep your eye on several different matching criteria to line up four quicker than you competitor!
The tweens and teens are a time to build competence and skills in the arts and sciences. A camera, binoculars, musical instruments, arts and crafts equipment, microscope and science kits are all possible.
Buy books at any age or stage
Most importantly across all the ages, buy books! Stories, novels and non-fiction from the youngest age are fantastic for general knowledge. Books help to develop emotional awareness, like empathy. It is a place where you understand characters’ motivations and actions from their internal point a view.
Investing in toys and equipment that match your child’s physical and intellectual development can make them better thinkers and learners and open pathways to lifelong interests and hobbies.
A great website to learn about options and prices for all age groups.
Lili-Ann Kriegler (B. A Hons, H. Dip. Ed, M.Ed.) is an education consultant and author of Edu-Chameleon. Lili-Ann’s primary specialisations are in early childhood education (birth-9 years), leadership and optimising human thinking and cognition. Her current part-time role is as an education consultant at Independent Schools Victoria and she runs her own consultancy, Kriegler-Education. Find out more at https://kriegler-education.com