If you have been to the toy aisles of your local EverythingMart lately, you know how overwhelming shopping for toys can be. There are so many choices! Do you choose based on age? Gender? Television show or movie tie-in? How in the world can you figure out how to best stock your playroom with toys that the kids will actually play with? It is very disheartening to buy a toy that you're sure your child will love, only to have them play with it for a day and then shove it in the bottom of the toy box. In this article I am going to share some tips for getting the most bang for your buck in the toy aisle!
There are many things to consider before bringing a toy into your playroom - especially if you are concerned with creating an atmosphere that is fun, supports your family’s values, and promotes early learning. The toy industry's marketing machine is a huge behemoth that will make you feel that if you love your children, you always have to be buying the latest and greatest buzzing, light up, battery-operated monstrosity. Don’t get me wrong- some of those toys can be FUN! There is certainly a time and place for them. However, there are a few other things to consider when choosing a toy:
First, I like to choose toys that can be played with by more than one age group. Even if you only have one child, they do eventually grow up. (Usually faster than we want!) Choosing a toy that will grow with them is a good way to stretch your dollars while challenging them. If you have children of multiple ages, this is crucial. Having toys that interest different age groups can help you teach concepts like sharing and taking turns. It can promote cooperative play (don’t laugh, it can happen!) and lets older kids develop leadership skills, while younger kids can learn from siblings and friends.
Next, I look at the ability for the toy to be used in more than one way. For instance - small plastic animals can be used for imaginative play, and then again later when we work on one to one correspondence (a child’s ability to match one object to one number or object). Then those same animals can be matched with pictures from a magazine to learn what habitat they live in. Or we can match them up to the letter that comes first in their name. Now we have used those figures for math, science, language and open ended play! Score!
Finally, I like to choose toys that will be fun! Most of the time this means looking at a toy from your child’s perspective. Will it help them imagine a new world? Is it scary or colorful or loud? Does it feel good in their sensitive hands? This part is harder to know universally, but you know your kids. You know what they like and how they react to their world, so you can make a good guess on this part.
When you choose toys that are fun, flexible and able to capture the imagination of many ages, your playroom will be the place where EVERY kid wants to play. I just hope you have plenty of snacks!