Young children learn predominantly through play, so it makes sense that toys are a significant part of the journey
What occurs during the first five years of life can have a substantial impact on how well an infant learns and grows throughout their lifetime. As your baby and their emerging abilities develop, so should their playthings. Here’s how toys can assist your little one’s development from birth.
Zero to Six Months
Babies have much to discover about the world around them and every new experience is an opportunity for them to learn. At this young age, toys actually stimulate a baby’s sense of sight, touch and sound, while also developing their imagination and dexterity. A toy simply being colourful will make it a fascinating stimulus for your infant’s brain and vision. Encouraging your baby to play with the right toys can also improve their muscle memory and coordination, develop their motor skills and encourage reaching developmental milestones quicker. Your baby will appreciate looking at rattles, baby books, textured balls and toys that make music. By giving them age-appropriate toys that are safe and stimulating, you’ll help them to discover their senses.
12 to 24 Months
As your baby grows, they’ll learn to hold small toys and transfer objects from hand to hand. For little ones, toys or objects in the house that can be filled, dropped, shaken or taken out will cause stimulation and help your tot to understand cause and effect and object permanence. Larger toys such as balls or pull toys will accommodate their desire for movement—developing motor skills and spatial awareness. From around 12 months, children will learn about the world by playing with ‘pretending’ toys: dolls, kitchen sets, building blocks, toy cars etc. They are also constantly investigating and will enjoy being creative. Non-toxic art supplies, simple board books and wood puzzles will encourage hand-eye coordination, logical thinking and problem-solving and teach your toddler more about colours, shapes and symmetry. Plenty of play at this age should give your little one a good foundation for school learning.
Three to Five Years
Children at preschool age have longer attention spans and are eager to experiment. It’s time for them to begin learning about letters, numbers and language, and there are plenty of toys that encourage this type of learning. Alphabet puzzles, picture books and matching games will help your child to learn and have fun at the same time, which will increase their retention. Preschoolers are still fine-tuning their physical skills and need to use their large and small muscles by throwing and catching, playing with ride-on toys, using plastic bats, bowling pins and similar toys. They like to play with friends, can take turns and share their toys with older children—a learning experience that will build empathy and relationships. At this age, plenty of creative supplies will help them to express themselves and consider the world around them. Toys are clearly important for developing individuality, social skills and a positive attitude toward learning.
What’s Gender Got to Do With It?
The inundation of advertisements promoting dolls for girls and trucks for boys helps toy companies make a profit, but these ‘stereotypes’ may also limit your child’s development. In a study, undergraduates found that ‘feminine’ toys were more likely to encourage nurturance and domestic skills, and ‘masculine’ toys were more likely to support the development of spatial, scientific and intellectual skills. Investing in fundamental toys—such as building blocks—and encouraging your child to play with a variety of things could assist growth in multiple areas.
Further Reading: Child's Play
Toys must be safe by law, but controlling how they’re used and deciding whether they’re age-appropriate are both important in preventing accidents. Consider these toy safety tips when buying for your child:
- Look for the ‘CE’ symbol, which shows a toy meets regulatory requirements.
- Look for the voluntary British Toy and Hobby Association’s ‘Lion Mark’.
- Buy toys from reputable sources and check their age range.
- Some children, particularly those under three, are more vulnerable and less able to cope with certain toys—follow your instinct.
- Avoid toys with loose fabric or hair that sheds, toys with small or detachable components, and those that have sharp points or finger traps.
- With toys such as chemistry sets, it’s important to supervise children during play and to follow instructions.
- Encourage children to play with one toy at a time and to put toys away when finished.
- Toys that you previously deemed safe may become unsafe due to wear and tear—check the quality of toys frequently.
Source: The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents
This feature was originally published in the summer edition of Healthy Child with Dr Ranj Singh, which you can also read here!