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How important are toys in a child’s development?

The best possible way for children to learn is through play. Children are innately curious and will seek out playful opportunities almost anywhere! We can support and enhance our children’s development by providing enabling environments, opportunities and resources which will capture our children's interests and imaginations. There are so many toys available for our children to be bought, where do we start with making those choices for our children? 

How do toys help a child develop?

For our very youngest children (under three years old), development should focus on the following three areas:

  • Personal, Social and Emotional Development
  • Communication and Language
  • Physical Development

Having a strong foundation in these areas will support children to go on and learn about more complex concepts that are explored in Maths and Science for example, as they grow and develop. You can learn more about the curriculum for under-fives that we have here in the United Kingdom by visiting this government website.

By carefully selecting the toys that your children play with, you can help your child develop in all of these areas. The key to selecting these toys is quality and not quantity. Studies have shown that children play for longer periods of time when they actually have less rather than more toys. A study from the University of Toledo in Ohio suggests “an abundance of toys present reduced quality of toddlers’ play.”

So, if you are worried about your home becoming more like a toy shop, you can have faith that reducing the number of toys that you have, in favour of selecting toys that support your child’s development will result in more creative and focussed play.

What toys are best for my child’s development?

The key to selecting toys for your child is choosing toys that are known as ‘open-ended’. Essentially, choosing toys that can be used for more than one purpose, and don’t have a beginning, middle and end, a jigsaw puzzle is an example of a resource that only has one purpose.

Simple items are the best open-ended toys: dolls, blocks, pretend food can all take on the form of different games, characters and be transported to different environments.

It is also useful before you purchase toys to consider how well made the toys are, and how long they will last, for environmental reasons of course we must become more conscious about this. But also for sentimental reasons, it’s so lovely having toys that can be passed on to family members to relive the magic, play and delight that the toy brought to the original owner!

One of my favourite open-ended toys, that can also be passed down through family and friends that we have here at Rosa & Bo is our Nesting Babies.

Here are three ways that they can support the primary areas of development, in line with the early years curriculum:

  1. Personal, Social and Emotional Development: talking about the different faces, skin tones and the expression on the dolls face will support all children in this key area of development
  2. Communication and Language: did you know that being able to differentiate between sounds in play helps children to break down sounds when they are learning to read and write? Children will love exploring the different characters of our nesting babies, to reveal Chiming Bo Bunny in the middle!
  3. Physical Development: children will be developing both their fine and gross motor skills as they work to take apart the different sized dolls, and then figure out how to put them back together. This is perfect for building up the physical challenge as those muscles and their grip develop

What age should I introduce toys to my child?

Somewhere between two and three months of age is about the right time to introduce toys to your baby. You want to ensure that the toys you use are simple, and most importantly, safe, so do check with the manufacturers’ guidelines before allowing your child to play with them. Very young babies have a developing sense of sight, so simple colours such as black and white are the easiest for them to see. It is also useful to have slow-moving toys for a baby’s developing eye muscles to keep up with.

As children approach six months, this tends to be the time where teeth begin to make an appearance. You can soothe sore gums, and also introduce some fun teethers to play with. Babies of this age just love looking at faces, so try to choose one that has a friendly recognisable face such as our gorgeous Bo Bunny Sensory Teething Toy that’s mint flavoured which has the added benefit of preparing the baby for teeth brushing.

As babies grow in strength, and begin to explore signs of movement, giving them an incentive to move is a great idea! Putting toys just out of reach, or having something to crawl to will help get them keen to move and will also give you an idea of their individual preferences and interests for toys depending on whether they are motivated to move towards the toy.

From around twelve months you can begin to follow your child’s interests and introduce open-ended toys a little more to support their development. It’s important to remember that every child develops at their own unique pace, and if you have any worries about your child’s development, always speak to a professional for further guidance. You can find out more about your child’s development with this downloadable guide from Early Years Alliance.

We have so many things to consider when raising our children, toys are one resource that we can use to support and encourage our child’s development. The most valuable resource to support our children’s learning however is, us! Children learn more from their parents than they do from anything or anyone else. So in case you haven’t been told this today- you are doing a great job! 

This blog has been written by Sarah Doman, our Resident Play Expert here at Rosa & Bo. Sarah is a Hypnobirth and Early Years Expert. She helps families from pregnancy to children of school age to get clear on the way they want to parent, by educating them on the development of their children and the options available to them.

You can find her on social media @sarahldoman or check out her website www.sarahdoman.com


References

Dauch, C., Imwalle, M., Ocasio, B., and Metz, A. (2018). The influence of the number of toys in the environment on toddlers’ play. Infant Behavior and Development. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.infbeh.2017.11.005