Just before Black Friday, I picked up a popular magazine at the supermarket checkout counter. I thought that the featured article, “Top Gifts for Children”, might provide the inspiration I needed to begin Christmas shopping for my own kids. Unfortunately, I couldn’t have been more wrong. Everything in the guide cost a fortune, looked cheap, made noise, needed batteries, and did most of the thinking! Rather than sugarplums, I had visions of broken plastic dancing in my head. No thanks!
Our homes do not have to be filled with the latest and greatest, the toy of the hour. Playthings should stimulate our children’s imaginations, engage children independently and also be played with a parent, sibling or friend. A good toy is quality that can withstand a beating and last long enough to get passed on.
As both Jean Piaget and Maria Montessori taught us many years ago, a child’s most important work is play. The toys we provide for our children are their learning tools, they help children understand the world around them. Too often we lose sight of how simple play can be. Bells and whistles are unnecessary, and the best toys require no batteries at all.
- Standard Unit Blocks and Other Building Toys
The number one toy that ALL children should own is a quality set of Standard Unit Blocks. Unit blocks are the blocks you might remember from your own preschool or kindergarten. The come in a rectangular shape and various fractions of that shape. An enormous amount of mathematical and physical science knowledge can be gained through play with these blocks. AND...blocks can become anything! A castle, a pirate ship, a zoo, a farm, a factory, the possibilities are endless. Other building toys such as Lego, Duplo and K’nex help with fine motor development, provide patterning practice, are great for sorting, and for problem solving. They are great for developing problem solving, reasoning and numeracy skills...and are a lot of fun!
- A Toy Kitchen and Other Cooking Accessories
Children love to play grown-up, and a toy kitchen is a perfect place to do it. Just think of the amount of time your family spends in the kitchen and you can understand why kids like to "cook" so much. In my house we keep the toy kitchen in the real kitchen and my kids are often "cooking" at the same time I am. When looking for a toy kitchen try to find one that has a cook top, prep area and a sink to clean up in. Neutral colors are a must...we want the guys to like cooking just as much as the girls! I am partial to the wooden kitchens as I think they look better, but there are great plastic models out there as well. It is worth investing in a high quality toy kitchen as it will get YEARS of use. A bonus is that for subsequent birthdays and Christmases you always have the inexpensive gift option of a new and different food set or kitchen accessory.
- A Versatile Backdrop Filled with Animals, People and Cars
Imagination is one of the greatest things that we can encourage in our children. So many toys on the market today have such a prescribed story that the imaginative part of the play is taken away. Instead, the play becomes a retelling of stories made up by others. Get your child an open ended backdrop, free of "characters". A simple dollhouse, a train set, a castle, a mountain can all be a setting for amazing stories. Whatever your child's passion is, support it by supplying many versatile figures with which to play. Be it dinosaurs, dolls, or construction trucks, open ended figures allow children to create fantastic stories.
Studies have shown that one of the best predictors of a child’s success during their first twelve years of formal schooling is the amount they were read to before they even got to kindergarten. Reading aloud with your children allows them to hear an enormous amount of words, build a bank of vocabulary, and develop a system of proper English syntax and semantics. All of these things help them to build the frame necessary for decoding and understanding text when they become a reader.
- Time and Experience