Three Types of Toys Every Child Needs
Why blocks? I love blocks. Blocks aren't just about building. Children are strategizing, they are building homes for bugs, they are building zoos, homes, towers. Add some airplane toys and all of sudden they are traveling the world. Add some animals, pretty soon they are taking care of an entire forest. Blocks are the most versatile toy there is. It can literally be anything the child wants it to be. And building with blocks allows for science (balance, gravity, weight, cause/effect), technology (technology doesn't have to be electronic, adding magnets is technology, installing pulley and lever system, using a ramp or a wheel, all of that is technology), engineering (planning a structure, adjusting the structure to work), math (weights, sizes, measurements, counting, symmetry). ETC ETC ETC. It's also creativity, it's art. Blocks are AMAZING.
How do I add to blocks? Don't just stick out your wooden blocks and expect magic to happen. Add different toys to encourage different kinds of play with the blocks. If you kids are REALLY into something like mine craft, or Star Wars. Get Star Wars figures to encourage a whole Star Wars world with the blocks. If they are simply into building, then have them make a plan on a paper, take a picture, print it out, have them draw around it to write what they were thinking and how it all worked. There's so much to do to expand the learning with blocks. And allowing multiple toys to work together is the very start! Asking open ended questions, why, how come, what... that's the best way to get the learning going.
2. PRETEND PLAY
Why pretend play? Children are learning so many things when they participate in pretend play. They are exploring how the world works in a safe, accessible way. Pretend play can be anything from puppet, toy kitchens, dress up, little figures, pet shops, flower shops, etc. etc. etc. Just in this video we see so much problem solving, cause and effect and other cognitive development. Charlie isn't at a stage where he's setting the table and inviting friends to tea. He's figuring out what sounds the plates make with the fork, how to open the cupboard, push the cards, dump baskets and fill them back up. As he gets older this play will change and he will do different things in his toy kitchen.
How do I add to pretend play? Add different toys, costumes, arrangements. Put a story book in there. The goldilocks and the three bears. Find three stuffed bears that happen to make their way in. What would the child do with that combination? Get police officer costumes, celebrate Chinese new year, hang pictures all around. They usually won't need much of a push to create a new story or scenario each day in their dramatic play area, but if they don't play in there at all... then it's not something that is interesting to them. Turning the toy kitchen into an airplane or a beauty shop, then it's pretend play that might interest them more. Add variety. It's amazing how many transformations this simple kitchen can take on with a little creativity and imagination.
3. SENSORY PLAY
Why sensory play? Sensory play is AMAZING. Not only is it allowing children to explore their senses, have hands on science experiences, measure, pour, mix, bury, unbury, dump, splash... it is teaching children to have self regulation. You might think I'm crazy, putting a bowl of rice in front of my child has nothing to do with their regulation skills. Oh my friends, it does. Charlie LOVES to play in my dog's water, he will put his hands in my make up any chance he gets, he regularly puts his toothbrush in the toilet... he LOVES sensory messes. So in order to teach Charlie an appropriate way to have sensory play, I need to provide him with materials to do so, and set boundaries. Our cousin Piper loves to get into things too. This girl loves covering herself in lotion, making her own bottles. There's an independence that comes from having the materials that usually are only accessible to adults. So when I give Charlie and Piper an activity, like magnets, measuring cups, strainers in a box of rice... they go nuts. They LOVE it. They are doing it in a developmentally appropriate... and not make your mom crazy sort of way, and they are learning to regulate by sharing, sticking to the boundaries set by them... exploring in crazy ways, but still resisting that temptation to dump or throw the rice. Rice is just one example. More include mud, water, sand, flour, cornstarch and water, conditioner and cornstarch, flour and conditioner, soap and water. Messes are GOOD. Find a time and a place for a mess to be made in your house, or outside. Kids need to get their hands dirty and explore.
How do I add to sensory play? SOOOOO many ways. Start simple if you want. Change up the materials, let the kids mix it themselves, give them scientific tools, give them sand toys, give them babies to wash, dishes to wash. This is truly the never ending play experience.
Lauren Pace, MS | Parenting Coach | Child Behavior Coach | Logan, Utah | WA | Online