Play toys or educational toys for the holidays is the question

Holidays afford the perfect opportunity to assess a child’s toys and determine what to purchase as gifts for appropriate play and learning experiences in the subsequent year.

The greatest learning time for children occurs in the toddler years. Mental and physical development are accomplished through play. A toddler’s “job” is to play and toys are the tools of his trade.

Whatever toys are presented to the child, he will utilize them in his own fun and educational way. Many parents have an anecdotal tale or two to share about going through great effort to provide the perfect toy, only to have the child toss the toy aside and play with the box.

A toddler can take a simple cardboard carton and entertain himself for hours by converting it to a car to take him on an imaginary trip, a table for make believe meals, a cave in which to hide, or anything else conjured up by his imagination.

When adding toys to a child’s collection, the primary considerations are safety and durability. All toys used for independent play should be washable, non-toxic, non-electric and contain no small parts. Examine for fragile components which might break off and create a safety hazard.

Toy maintenance is crucial. When a child outgrows a toy, or it is broken, it should be removed from the play area. It is counterproductive to continuing development for a child to be surrounded by broken or age-inappropriate toys.

Once these precautions are considered, the actual purpose of the toy, whether it is designed to be educational or strictly for the child’s enjoyment, is optional and best left to the discretion of the parents.

Many toy companies package their toys in colorful containers with age designations and listed target areas of developmental skill and educational value. This can be helpful, especially to first time parents or others gifting the child at holiday time.

As long as the toddler has a variety of toys addressing all the developmental skills for his age, whether they are labeled educational is not a concern. Toys for toddlers should be geared to increase fine and gross motor skills, stimulate imagination and above all else, foster fun.

Gift ideas for fine motor skills

Puzzles, shape sorters, stringing beads and pegboards with large pegs are all appropriate gifts for toddlers. Toy telephones, musical toys of any kind, pounding hammers and peg benches all assist with hand-eye coordination and finger dexterity.

Gift ideas for gross motor skills

Toys aimed at physical activity for both indoor and outdoor play. Push/pull toys, riding toys, balls, beanbags, slides and climbing equipment all fall into this category. Insure that battery operated toys are only used with adult supervision.

Gift ideas to encourage imagination

Art supplies of all kinds, including non-toxic, washable paints, crayons and markers, clay and chalkboards with chalk are all good choices. Stickers, construction paper, cut-outs with child sized scissors are also in this category, but require adult supervision.

Blocks of all varieties, wood letters and numbers will help with reading readiness and also foster imagination. When blocks are accompanied by figurines, the child can create his own world and play in it for hours.

While all of the toys listed are appropriate for toddlers, all of them would not be found in the educational section of the toy department. This does not mean that these toys will not serve an educational purpose for the toddler.

By keeping an open mind and perusing all possibilities, parents will ensure their child has enough variety in his toy collection to encourage optimum mental and physical growth.

A major consideration when purchasing toys for toddlers is to insure the toy contains an element of fun. If it is not fun, then it cannot really be classified as a toy. Toddlers are a work in progress. Let them have an abundance of “play” things and they will learn in the process of having fun.