My children are approaching teenagerhood and increasingly over the last few years, their Christmas and birthday wish lists have been populated by the latest electronic gadgets. On the other hand, there really isn’t anything they want for. They are well fed, well clothed and have the basic sporting and other equipment, so anything they are going to want is very much in the discretionary realm. It actually becomes difficult to find something for them that isn’t either wasting money, or supplementing their already advanced screens-addiction. Unfortunately they are well past the age when they are more interested in playing with the box it came in than the present itself.
However I remember when they were young I read a list of basic developmental toys for children. Playtime is learning time for small children, and the toys and equipment they need for this basic development is generally not very expensive and easily accessed. And no batteries required!
1. Building blocks. Children love to build things, see how things fit together, or just generally learn about gravity. One of the best games for very small children is for the parent or caregiver to build a tower and then the child knocks it over, scattering blocks everywhere. Hysterical fun that can be played over and over again! Great for fine (building) and gross (knocking over) motor skills as well as logic.
2. Dress-up clothes. These do not have to be costumes. Hand-me downs and unwanted clean clothing from parents are fine, but particularly hats, sunglasses, shoes and anything a bit showy. If you really don’t have anything, second-hand stores often have a range of clothing and accessories at reasonable prices. Children like to learn about other people by play-acting them – and some of the stereotypes can be hilarious, particularly if it is you they are acting out!
3. Books. There is evidence that shows that the number of books in a household influences the literacy level of the child. Now that is probably at least in part because a house with a lot of books means parents are literate and value reading, and probably read in front of the child.
4. Musical instrument. Yes, I know, shudder. As if they aren’t loud enough already. Who hasn’t been tormented by the toddler with a toy drum banging and banging for hours on end? But a variety of toy musical instruments can teach a child cause and effect, rhythm, and can help them learn to tune in to different sounds and pitches, and a range of other things. That’s why they like them! This can be simple as a rattle or shaker, a toy recorder, a toy drum or toy piano.
5. Bath toys. Learning confidence in water and learning to work with water (pouring, filling up cups, squirting) can aid with fine motor skills, sensory perceptions and an understanding of the properties of liquids. They are also enormous fun and a great way to distract them while you get them clean.
6. Puzzles. This can range from nesting cups, to fitting shapes blocks into corresponding holes,to jigsaw puzzles (appropriate for age). This teaches fine motor skills, spatial awareness and logic. Many of these things are available from second-hand toy shops.
7. Dolls & stuffed animals. Important for play-acting. Children often work out social relationships and interactions by play-acting them. Access to dolls and stuffed toys to “people” the action is important. Be careful of second-hand stuffed toys, they can be a haven for disease (pre-sucked and pre-chewed!)
8. Cars and balls. Teach children about motion and prediction. (The famous experiment of rolling a toy car behind a piece of cardboard and watching as the baby moves its eyes to the other side of the cardboard waiting for the car to re-emerge). Also great for gross and fine motor skills.
9. Ride-ons. Ranging from little plastic ride-ons to bikes, dependent on age and skill level. Good for gross motor skills, strength, fitness, balance and coordination. Also great fun, but make sure they are wearing helmets as soon as they graduate to a bike.
10. Arts and crafts. Can be as simple as paints or coloured pencils, and paper. The stationary department of your local store is always a great place to find things to keep children occupied and entertained, while they practice their fine motor skills, planning and creating, and maybe come up with a masterpiece for you!
Bonus! Well I wanted a list of ten, but I have suddenly remembered another favourite from childhood – bubbles! Who can forget the excited shrieks of the child who sees bubbles for the first time? A simple bubble loop and washing up liquid can create enormous fun, so long as you (or the child) have the puff to keep them going! try to do it outdoors though – that bubble mix goes somewhere when the bubbles pop, and when you have a sticky dirty mess on the floor you will know where that somewhere is!
(I’ll add my usual disclaimer – I am not a child development expert, the information presented here should be considered as pointers only, and I encourage you to do your own research if you want to know more about child development.)