Entertainment vs Educational toys & games

Investing in appropriate toys and games for our children can be costly and a time-consuming task.  While parents might consider durabilty, safety, appropriateness and value for money, our children are more interested in its appeal: Is it fun? Is it better than my friend's toy? What can I do with it? Is it cool?... 

Below, are some factors to consider when selecting toys and games for children which I'm sure will be helpful when considering what to look for when buying for your child. 

Degree of challenge:

  • Consider the difficulty level: Does the toy/game encourage your child to reach for more? Does it provide a challenge without frustrating? Is it fun and rewarding?
    (Note: look for products that offer easier to more difficult levels. Many of the Smile Education range of games include graded cards for beginner to more experienced and advanced users, eg Pegboard Combo or Logi Shapes Galore.)

Sensory attraction:

  • Find toys that stimulate as many senses as possible, including
    • touch - different textures, a variety of sizes of the same shape, Feely books or puzzles
    • smell - difficult to find but they are available if you keep your eyes peeled. Consider playdough with nice smells (or make your own and add essences) for younger children or smelly stickers for older children, particularly girls
    • listening - audio books, Look & Listen puzzles, musical instruments

Potential of the Product:

  • Is it adaptable to various ages and stages of learning? eg Geostacks
  • Is it multi functional? Can it be used in different ways, positions and kinds of play, eg blocks (for all ages) and Mega Peg & Play (for younger children) can be used to build, stacked to make a tall tower, used for counting, weighing, learning about cause and effect (building and breaking), used in solitary play or when playing with friends, etc

Develop Social Skills:

Physical Development and Coordination:

  • Does playing with the toy build or strengthen muscles (gross and fine motor), improve hand-eye/ foot-eye or other coordination?

Provide for Cognitive Development:

  • Does it allow for self expression and creativity? eg playing with playdough, threading beads, sand play or hand puppets
  • Does it present opportunities to make choices, either when playing by themselves (eg which clothes should I dress my doll in or which puzzle piece fits here) or when playing with others so that they see the impact their choices have on others.
  • Does the game engage your child in problem solving? eg Mind Twisters, TangramMagic Pyramids or puzzle building
  • Is it a closed or open-ended game? ie is there a definite answer or finished product (eg puzzle), or can the game be manipulated to include the child's own ideas (eg threading activities or constructing something) 

Ease of Use:

  • Can your child physically manipulate and play with the features of the toy? (pieces not too small or tough to turn, or beyond his or her physical ability level, etc)
  • Will your child understand how to use it?

 I hope this list sheds some light on some things to look for when buying toys and games. Please email me if I can help with other ideas.


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