Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Making the Perfect Purchase: 6 Things to Consider When Choosing Toys and Books for Toddlers

All I Want for Christmas Is...

A few weeks ago, I was asked by my patient's parents if I could make recommendations for toys that could be given to their daughter for Christmas.  At 20 months old, this little girl's toy repertoire was limited to a Star Lilly Unicorn (with very creepy eyelashes), a few stuffed animals, a doll and a book with lots of words.

Recognizing that Star Lilly was definitely a big ticket item, I knew that this family's money could go a lot further if different choices were being made. I mean, for that price of that flashy unicorn, they could have bought enough toys to fill a toy chest. I also decided she would probably have more fun playing with more developmentally appropriate toys.

"Yes, I would be glad to offer some suggestions!"

I started talking:  "Choosing toys is a very big responsibility. They need to be safe but fun. Interesting, but not overwhelming." I continued, "Toys are the tools children use when playing and learning. Having the right tools is important because they help kids understand and make sense of the world."

I glanced over to see that they had a glazed look in their eyes. I stopped in my tracks and said, "Let me give this some more thought. I'll have some good ideas when I come back next week."

That night, I did some shopping...I mean research. I figured, since these were going to be professional recommendations for a speech and language delayed child, I might want to do a little more than come up with a quick list off the top of my head. I looked to the National Center for Infants, Toddlers and Families for information. There are five important things to keep in mind when selecting toys for toddlers:

Find toys to put together, take apart and stack

Recommended toys include blocks, interlocking blocks, nesting cups and toys for sand or water play. These toys and activities spark imagination, help develop motor skills and problem solving, and promote logical thinking skills.

Choose toys that grow with your child

Recommended toys include plastic animals, action figures, trains, toddler friendly dollhouses, trucks and cars. These toys are appropriate for various ages and stages of development so they can be used during play for many years to come. What a great investment!

Select toys that encourage exploration and problem solving

Recommended toys include puzzles, shape sorters, nesting toys and art materials such as crayons and play dough. These toys build logical thinking skills, help little ones to become persistent problem solvers, increase eye to hand coordination and develop fine motor skills.

Give children the chance to play with real stuff

Recommended toys include plastic dishes, pretend food, pretend tools, musical instruments, pretend keys or phones, and child sized brooms, mops, dustpans, shopping carts or lawn mowers. Toys like these help children problem solve, learn how things fit together and develop fine motor skills. Pretend play with "real stuff" builds language and literacy skills and the ability to sequence. 

Seek toys that encourage activity

Recommended toys include balls of different shapes and sizes, pull toys, wagons, and crawl through tunnels.  These toys help children practice current physical skills and develop new ones.  

A great gift that will last for life:  the love of books

Sharing books together is a great way to bond with children and it promotes development of speech and language at the same time. When you read to a child, you are helping their brain grow. Without a doubt, it is important to read to a child every day.

Since younger children have short attention spans, try reading for a few minutes, then build up the time you read together. Your child will soon see reading time as fun time! 

Best books for toddlers are:
  • sturdy board books with rounded pages
  • activity books that allow touch and fee or lift and find
  • vivid pictures and colorful illustrations
  • simple concepts
  • repeating and rhyming text

If you're shopping for an infant or older child, be sure to check out what the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) has to say about selecting Good Toys for Young Children

In the meantime, following these recommendations will enable you to purchase toys and books that have been Lopez/Montalvo kid tested, mom recommended and SLP approved. 

Play is the highest form of research.
Albert Einstein