Play has been touted by many experts as the cornerstone of education. From the first time a child picks up a new toy, or a toy they have played with many times before, they are using their imagination and what they know of the toy to direct play. When a child is engaged in play, they are learning every step of the way. That's why it is important to choose the very best toys to encourage their learning and development.
We have had the pleasure of being able to interview the foremost expert on educational toys and play, Dr. Stevanne Auerbach, PhD, aka Dr. Toy, about which toys are best for your child, and how play stays with them for their entire lives. Dr. Toy has over 45 years of experience in selecting the best educational toys, as well as written over 15 books on toys, education, and childcare. See what she has to say about choosing the best toys for your child below!
Green Piñata: What kind of role does play have in early education? How can parents encourage their child's development during play?
Dr. Toy: Play has an essential role in early childhood education – it is at the center of the learning experience, and involves all of the senses. The purpose of play is to stay healthy (mentally and physically), and to enjoy learning. Early childhood offers many diversified opportunities for children to play, learn, and grow. They learn from each other, from using their imagination, playing outdoors, building, role-playing, and many more activities.
Parents are the child’s first teacher, and "toy.” Adults can encourage the child to play by being playful – singing, playing games, talking, reading aloud, playing with a puppet, changing their voices, putting a puzzle together, or sitting on the floor building. Parents can assist the child to overcome concerns or limitations if they share the activity with the child.
Green Piñata: What should a new parent look for when purchasing a toy for their child?
Dr. Toy: Looking for toys is always a challenge – it takes time, and requires some research. You have to consider the age and ability of your child, and you want to get something that your child will be able to manage easily. Look for the suggested age range on the box, the description of the product, and what is required to make the most of it. Toys need to be safety-tested, appropriately designed, and reliably produced. See more suggested tips for selecting toys in my book, Smart Play, Smart Toys.
Green Piñata: If a child shows interest in just one type of toy, should a parent be worried about encouraging the child to expand his/her interests? What if the child is most interested in battery-operated toys or screens?
Dr. Toy: Children often first become interested in one particular toy. It could be something they build, a car or truck, a puppet, or a doll. Young children need to be allowed to express their own language, thoughts, creativity, and be given ample opportunities to play with a toy openly. You can gently add an additional toy, such as a new puppet or another toy, to further stimulate the child’s interests and ability to transfer to another activity. Often, when a child gets attached to their favorite stuffed animal or doll, they want it as a comfort, so it is best to respect and support their needs.
Introducing electronics too early may interfere with a child’s own personal expression. Most electronic devices have pre-programmed activities, and do not allow for a child to be able to use their imagination. Children like the challenge of watching, sorting, building, knocking down, and starting over again. There are so many experiences that can be created out of a child’s imagination.
Green Piñata: Question from a parent: My child prefers to play with his Talking Bear vs the Stackers or Sorters. What should I do?
Dr. Toy: Once children become involved with electronics, whether it’s a phone, talking bear, or anything else, they may find it fascinating, and it may be difficult for them to go back to regular toys. It’s hypnotic, because children and people of all ages are focused on their phones – even when they are with friends. With a young child, it’s OK to remove electronics, and replace them with a toy that allows the child to play with it more openly. Creating a tea party with teddy bears and dolls, or creating a puppet theatre from a cardboard box is a lot more fun if there’s no electronics to interfere.
Green Piñata: What do you like about Green Piñata Toys?
Dr. Toy: Green Piñata Toys offers parents excellent, eco-friendly toy choices at a very reasonable price, and provides children the widest possible variety of high quality playthings. Parents can be sure that the toys they rent for their child have been tested in terms of safety, as well as child-tested. It’s a great idea to be able to play-test products to discover if your child really likes them. Then you have the option to purchase, and provide the child with continuity.
What are some of your child's favorite toys? Share with us in the comments below!
Feature image, little girl with box and toys, and little boy with yellow musical toy: Katy Doyle
Little girl and little boy playing with blocks: Jenny Moloney
Little girl with sorting toys: Liz Hall