Toys That Teach—Playing to Learn

Homeschooling can extend the window of time for children to effortlessly learn by playing with toys. Parents should provide children with several open-ended toys, such as blocks, little figures (people, animals, characters), vehicles, and craft/art supplies. For generations, these toys have successfully promoted eye-hand coordination, fine motor skills, vocabulary, relationship skills, and basic academic principles.

Several companies that make excellent toys for ingenuity are Playmobil(www.playmobilusa.com), LEGO (www.lego.com), and Melissa & Doug (www.melissaanddoug.com). Permit your children to leave toys set up for several days at a time if they are constructing big projects such as a neighborhood or they are having a grand adventure.

Children need to learn how to come up with creative solutions when they encounter unexpected problems. Figuring things out is one of the best parts of play as children move from simple challenges to complex ones.

Solid Construction

Since we should be good stewards with God’s money, buying toys that are well made ensure safety and longevity. Moreover, children are more likely to extend their play, exploring new directions, if the items are durable. For me, construction is one of the most important qualities in a toy. I want toys that will last and are safe!

Patch Products (www.patchproducts.com) makes items that are purchased by schools for classrooms, so they focus on solid construction. Patch focuses on what they call toy-games, in which all of the pieces bounce, pop, roll, and flash! Tall-Stacker Mighty Monkeyplay set is a stackable imaginative toy that your child can enjoy creatively; many extension kits to expand play are available. Look for toys like this that grow with children.

Another outstanding teacher resource brand for learning toys is Learning Resources (www.learningresources.com). Their website is set up by age, category, and subject. They have a special section for parents, teachers, and special needs. These toys were created with many years of school use in mind. A new construction set for this year is Candy Construction, which encourages structure building with pretend chocolate bars, peppermints, gumdrops, and pixie sticks. Parents have found that children aged 5–10 enjoy Candy Construction. Their doctor kit, tool set, and play food are also highly recommended.

Action

Any toy with a movable part piques interest, but some toys are better at inspiring imagination and provoking interaction. We need to look for toys that do more than keep our children busy. Playtime should get our children moving in both small ways and big ways. Educators classify muscle development as fine motor and gross motor, respectively. It is important to give emerging writers many opportunities to use their fingers to pick up small objects and to develop the ability to move their hands and finger muscles with increased dexterity.

When you look at a toy, think about how it will engage your child physically. Educators use the word manipulatives to describe small objects that are touched by a child as he learns concepts. Many types of manipulatives that have been designed to teach a specific academic skill can be found at parent/teacher stores and learning centers.

Scholastic and Klutz (www.klutz.com) offer graphic books that come with supplies to provide hands-on learning. The Hand Book comes with a snap-together scientific model of twenty-one bones in the hand, which is perfect for teaching children about the bones of the hand but which will probably not be incorporated into long-term playing. While most of these items do make schooling more interesting, the majority of children would not call them toys.

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