Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Educational Toys for Infants and Children

Toys are an integral part of a child's life. The physical and mental development of a child, to a large extent, depends on the right choice of toys. The variety of toys available today, may confuse many parents about the selection of appropriate toys for their kids. Here is a guide to help parents choose educational toys for their children at the different stages of childhood.
Childhood is that stage of life, where you get fascinated with almost everything under the sun. Right from their birth, children are curious about everything and have an inborn tendency to explore and desire to learn. Toys play a key role in this process of learning and development of a child.

A general view is that a toy is something to be played with. It can be anything - a household item like a kitchen container or a set of building blocks. However, toys, which specifically help a child to learn about a particular subject or to develop a particular skill are known as educational toys. Educational toys should be selected carefully, according to the age of the child. As children are curious about learning new things, any toy or game is a learning experience for them. You can tap this natural curiosity and contribute to their knowledge in a better way, through education-oriented toys. Let us go through the different stages of development of a kid and the educational toys that suit each stage.

Zero to Six Months

For a newborn, after spending nine months in the mother's womb, everything is new. It may sound absurd, if you talk about educational toys for a newborn, but, toys are a great medium through which you can make the newborns, familiar with their surroundings. At this stage, the primary role of toys is to help the babies develop their senses and reflexes.

It takes at least two months for newborns to adjust to their surroundings. They learn through their senses of hearing, sight, taste and touch. You can stimulate these senses through the right educational toys. A newborn baby has blurry vision and can recognize things within a distance of 10-12 inches. So, while selecting toys for this age group, you should go for colorful ones. Crib mobiles with soothing music, crib music boxes, soft toys and safety mirrors are some good options. Crib mobiles help the movement of eyes, which in turn strengthens eye muscles; music enhances the listening skills, and soft toys or dolls help the newborns in recognizing faces.

As a baby enters his second month, he starts kicking his legs and waving his arms. So, floor gyms with hanging parts, light and music proves to be more appealing for them. It helps to develop motor skills, as the babies reach for the hanging toys. The third and fourth months are characterized by
their attempts to grasp objects. Here, they need rattles and toys that make sounds. During the fifth month, you can select toys, which a baby can hold in his hands. Bat-at toys, squeeze toys, musical toys, teething rings, etc. help enhance hand-eye coordination. In the sixth month, babies need toys which encourage them to crawl. Colored balls and action-reaction toys will be perfect for this age.

Six to Twelve Months

A baby starts crawling and takes efforts to sit straight during its seventh and eighth months of age. The thinking ability of a baby starts developing around the eighth month. Toys like building blocks, sorting toys, bath toys, interlocking rings, etc. are good at this stage. During the eighth month, go for toys which enhance confidence and strength of the baby, as he may try to stand up, holding the furniture. Ninth and tenth months witness more physical activity, with the baby trying to walk. Walkers, link-together toys, play-telephones, language development toys, etc are excellent for this developmental stage of a baby. You can introduce outdoor toys like swings, during this period. Also try some push-pull toys, ride-on toys, simple musical instruments, pop-up toys, balls, etc. and see the happiness on your child's face, as he plays and learns.

One to Five Years

Almost all babies start walking between their twelfth and fifteenth month. During this period, they utter their first words, generally associated with food, parents, or pets. The educational toys in this period, should aim at helping them develop these skills. As they enter their second year, you can introduce more educational toys to enhance their vocabulary and creative skills. Get them books with pictures, crayons, play dough, etc. during this period. You can also choose soft alphabet blocks, stacking rings, solid letters and large balls.

A two-year-old can walk, jump and hop, has good hand-to-eye coordination and tries to speak full sentences. At this age, kids tend to observe and imitate the speech and mannerisms of the elders around them. So, it is advisable to get them sporty toys, role-play toys, water toys, wagons, dolls, stuffed animals and child-sized tables/chairs. You can also introduce educational toys, which help in counting. As a child enters his third year, he will want more sporty toys, simple board games, play sets, dolls with accessories, story books, picture books, realistic toys like animal sets, model cars and trains, and puzzles. Such learning toys help in preparing them for kindergarten.

During the fourth year, kids become proficient in almost everything expected from them at this age. They can walk well, carry their things, draw, write words, sing, dance, swim, skate, etc. Try to indulge them in more creative projects and in toys that can help them with their reading and writing skills. You can get them educational toys like drawing toys, electronic games, board games, simple musical instruments, etc. These toys help them build self-confidence.

Above Five Years

Kids in this age group, make friends and spend more time playing with their peer group. They are active in hiking, swimming, biking and also start having hobbies. They enjoy board games, art kits, science kits, art materials, marbles, larger bicycles, construction sets, backyard gym equipment, kites, etc. Between the ages of six and nine, you can go for science experiment kits, junior versions of adult sporting equipment, pogo sticks, jump ropes, magic sets, tabletop sports and video games.

Kids in the age group of nine to twelve tend to develop skills and hobbies that usually last for their lifetime. Science kits, jigsaw puzzles, advanced construction sets, chess, playing cards, remote control vehicles, checkers, dominoes and books are beneficial for them.

Things to Remember

    * Choose appropriate educational toys for different age groups, considering your child's abilities and interests.
    * Always read the instructions before using the toy or game and keep the product literature safely, for future reference.
    * Educational toys for infants/toddlers should not have any sharp edges, and small parts.
    * Let the kids play under your supervision.
    * Don't allow the younger kids to use toys meant for the older ones.
    * Keep these toys in a safe place, away from very young children.
    * Check these toys at regular intervals for damage.

Playing, in general, helps children to develop their senses and motor skills in the early stages. It also helps the kids in enhancing their creativity, thinking, problem solving skills and language. So, playing with educational toys means learning and mastering various skills. Every parent should try to choose suitable educational toys for their children. Apart from buying these educational toys, it is important to spend quality time with your kids. At times, you may have to sit with your children and explain to them, the working of a particular toy, help them solve a puzzle or simply play with them. All this makes a difference in the overall development of your child, as your child is everything that matters to you.
By Sonia Nair

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