Buying presents for children can often be a minefield. Issues to navigate are often the cost of the toys, the quality of the toys, and of course the peer pressure to have the latest toy or gadget! My personal experience of buying toys has me wearing two different hats. As a Play Therapist, I find a lot of joy in buying toys, it indulges the geek in me as I think about the metaphors in the toys and how they might be used by children in therapy. As a parent, I look at the developmental functions of the toys, what my children might gain from having this toy. In this article, I’m going to keep my parent hat on as we discuss choosing toys for children.
So I guess some of the first considerations for any toy is will it fit in my house? do they have a lot of this kind of toy already? and does it make a noise I can cope with on repeat?! Sometimes it’s okay to have a number of the same toys such as cars or figures; it’s often important to the game and it might be helping children to play out ideas such as group interactions, or conflicts, and co-operation in groups. As for the noisy toys, as infuriating as they can be for us, for younger children especially, they can really incentivise a child to keep on playing and therefore learning with the toy.
My next consideration would be is this a ‘one trick pony’? Look through any toy catalogue and there are a lot of these kinds of toys in here, often with a price tag that is much higher than the value your child(ren) will gain from the toy. These toys might just do one thing, such as catapult a car off a ramp, they are great for the first day or two but they soon collect dust. So when I look at a toy I’m looking to see if it has lots of functions. So right now I’m looking at the bin lorry I bought for my son. It has lights that flash and it makes a beeping sound for when it is ‘reversing’, so it helps add to the imaginative elements of the play. It has a small wheelie bin that travels up the side of the bin to tip rubbish into a shoot, and it can also be filled and emptied at the back of the vehicle, so there are a few ‘action’ features to the toy. My son often fills the lorry up with Duplo or sometimes we have scrunched up small pieces of paper to fill the wheelie bin.
Another consideration would be, is the toy providing the right level of challenge? If it’s too easy they will probably show little interest in it, but too hard and they could feel disheartened by the challenge being too great. I think what is important to bear in mind is (considerations about small parts aside) is this right for my child. Some of us parent-child ‘geniuses’ and others have children that take a bit longer to learn, so the age guide on a toy is just, that a guide. Some toys may have several levels of challenge. I have a shape sorting toy bus for my very young daughter. At first, all she could do was play with the shapes, which provided lots of different sounds and visuals, but now she is starting to try and put the shapes in the correct place. Before I know it I’m sure she will be whizzing the bus around the house, so I expect I will have got a good two years of play out of this toy before it is passed on.
Regardless of ability it is also important to consider what experiences they will get from the toy. Will it provide a sensory experience? will it help them to develop their imagination? will it help them with their physical co-ordination or help them to hone their social skills? Will this toy encourage the child to go out to play and get some physical exercise? Play comes in so many forms and toys can really help to facilitate many of these types of play. Toys can also be a great way to access play that increases your child(rens) confidence and helps enhance your relationship together. In our ‘Lets Play! A Course in Relationship-Based Play’ sessions between myself and Yoni Ejo will help you to facilitate play in ways that can make significant positive differences to your family.