With the Christmas season upon us shopping for toys can be a challenge for parents. The presence of technology in society has changed the focus for many parents and children on what seems important. While all the electronics certainly look like what we want for our kids, technology alone is not what children need to develop motor and language skills needed for success academically or socially. Technology has brought many advances in learning but technology alone can get in the way of developing other necessary skills for learning and being an active participant in the classroom. Technology, such as the iPad, is a passive activity similar to watching television. It does not require active engagement or problem solving skills. While a little technology, like a little television time, are not a problem for children, they should not be the primary focus of your child’s time.
What do children need? Children need opportunities for physical activity, toys that will support development of fine and gross motor skills. Motor skills development precedes development of language skills, and the visual and motor skills needed for success in the classroom. Young children need things they can push (shopping baskets or a doll stroller) or ride (Little Tykes® cars), tricycles and bikes for older children, anything that requires movement, and don’t be afraid to get outside with your children. Getting your children outside leads to development of motor skills, allows for opportunities to learn about and interact with the environment, and promotes opportunity for pretend play, all of which lead to healthy social and emotional development. Want an inexpensive gift for your child, buy them a ball or two, what better way to get them outside, build motor skills and spend time with them.
Children also need opportunities to develop early play and language skills. There are many developmentally appropriate toys available that build successful motor and language skills. When we think about what children need consider fine motor skills developed through eye-hand coordination early on. My favorite all time toy is Mr. Potato Head®. Mr. Potato Head is excellent for developing eye hand coordination as both hands are needed to put pieces on the potato. A wide range of vocabulary and language skills can be developed through the body parts and other accessories that come with them. It also provides for creative and parallel play as children interact with each other and their potatoes.
For young children focus on the purchase toys that are interactive. Fisher Price® play sets provide some of the best tools for developing early motor and language skills. The Farm set and Doll House are great for young children as the pieces are chunky and easy to manipulate. They also provide for development of early vocabulary, location phrases (in the barn, behind the fence) and imaginative and interactive play. Other activities for building creative play for young children include Thomas and Friends® (don’t forget the tracks), cooking and kitchen sets, dress up, and blocks (stacking, Mega Blocks®, Legos®). I also encourage the use of books as learning tools. Books that allow for expanded learning opportunities such as I Spy are wonderful ways to talk about what your child sees and different meanings for words. Don’t forget puzzles. Puzzles are appropriate for all ages. Puzzles with knobs on them are especially good for children that have fine motor difficulties. As children get older consider jigsaw puzzles. Working with your child on a jigsaw puzzle is a great way to develop social language skills, problem solving skills and visual perceptual skills, even at a young age.
Board games are one more way to provide opportunities for you to interact with your children of all ages. They provide active engagement/learning and development of language skills. Board games for younger children includes Richard Scarry Busy Town Eye Found It®, Hoot Owl Hoot® and Memory games. For older children consider some of the following board games: Dixit® to build storytelling, Guess Who®, Head Bands®, Kabam®, Rhyme Out®, Double Ditto®, Taboo®, and Scattergories®.
Whatever you decide to get your children for Christmas remember to turn off technology for a while and take time to interact with them. Be sure to be a good model for them. Put your cell phones away and turn off the television.
April Smith, M.A. CCC
Owner – Greater Learning, LP