With the holidays fast approaching, you might be searching for gift ideas for the little ones in your lives. Additionally, your house will soon be flooded with toys and you might be interested in learning how to turn toys into educational experiences. I’ve researched the topic (with a little help from parents.com) and put together a few tips to consider this gift-giving season and beyond.
Toys that stimulate babies’ senses are most appropriate for this age. Brightly colored, patterned, plush toys (are easiest for baby to see), rattles (great for stimulating sound localization and recognition skills), unbreakable mirrors, or tummy-time mats or gyms are excellent choices. Remember to help your little one get to know their new toy! Label or name the toy and talk about what you are doing as you play ( “Do you see your new ball? Mommy is going to roll it.”)
Toys that encourage cause and effect play are best for toddlers. A few toys to consider are: stacking rings, cups, or boxes, push- or pull-toys, hammering toys, musical instruments, shape sorters, large vehicles, “chunky” wooden puzzles, and bath toys. Encourage your little one to explore her new toys and teach her how to play with them. Explain and show her how actions such as hammering a ball cause a desired effect like the ball rolling down the tunnel. Again, providing language stimulation for nouns and verbs will help to increase your toddler’s vocabulary. Remember to use short, but concise phrases (i.e, “daddy hammer ball”, “ball roll down”, “do it again”). Toys with pieces (like shape sorters or puzzles) are great for encouraging requesting (i.e, “want more”).
Toys such as dolls, action figures, stuffed animals, make-believe play toys (i.e., tool bench, kitchen, play house/tent, dress up clothes), and phonics toys are great choices for older children. Be sure to encourage your child to imitate your actions and demonstrate role playing/make believe as you play. Continue to provide a description of your actions or theirs! (i.e., “Wow! What a delicious pizza you made me. Mmm, it is so yummy.”). Phonics toys that teach letter sounds are great for this age group too. Problem solving, experiment toys (i.e., science kits, magnifying glasses, binoculars, and telescopes), and arts and craft kits are popular choices for older kids as they encourage kids to follow their interests and teach them about how things work. These are great ways to sneak in extra science/math lessons and vocabulary!
Help them work on their persuasive writing abilities and have them generate a list or a nice letter to Santa explaining why having an iPad will help them to do all of their chores without being asked for the next 5 years (haha!). Perhaps you could use the promise of a “really sweet gift” as motivation to complete tasks (i.e., chores, homework) in an independent and timely manner. Encourage your teen to give back/pay it forward by volunteering and sneak in some practice with literacy skills by having them write about their experience (again, reward them for their good deeds with a little something from their wish list).
Additional Tips for All Ages
1. Consider the child’s current age, ability level, and interests, but plan ahead.
Even though the holidays are right around the corner, chances are your child will receive a billion many gifts this season. It is okay to plan ahead with your gift giving. Just because your child won’t be ready to play with their new toy for a while, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t purchase the gift. In fact, this is a great way to make the most of your child’s gifts. How exciting will it be to pull out a brand new toy in February or July?
2. Look for multi-purpose items.
Keep in mind your child’s goals and look for items that you can use to target them. That way, playing can be both fun and educational! Teachers, other professionals, and other parents are excellent resources; don’t be afraid to ask for recommendations! Additional toy reviews/recommendations can be found online; try searching websites such as babycenter.com, parents.com, or amazon.com. Make sure to have a ratio of educational toys and just for fun toys. Older children may have a full on meltdown be a little upset if they’re only given flashcards as stocking stuffers!
3. Don’t’ worry if your child isn’t immediately interested in their new toy(s).
Try introducing the toy several times throughout the day and see if it eventually peaks their interest. If not, put the toy away for a few weeks and bring it out again.
Keep it simple.
While extravagant gifts are nice, it is the thought that counts. Not all toys need to be “electronic” either. Some of the best toys that encourage imaginative play are rather “plain.” Try searching online or at toy stores for “wooden toys”, or “waldorf toys.” Another great option is a homemade gift. There are a plethora of DIY (do it yourself) ideas online and on a website called “Pinterest” (www.pinterest.com).
Be sure to put your gift in a box.
Kids of all ages enjoy boxes and the possibilities for language stimulation are endless! (Perhaps you could be pirates, sailing the seven seas in your “boat”, or you could be going on a wild safari in your “jeep” searching for animals, or a princess in her “castle”…). Don’t forget to recycle when you are done!
-Elisabeth McCourt, M.A, CCC-SLP, Beaumont Hospitals