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The Connection Between Your Child’s Toys & How They Learn

The Connection Between Your Child’s Toys & How They Learn

Toys, Games, and Puzzles … Oh My

The Holiday season is upon us once again, which means millions of parents are asking themselves the question, “Which toy should I get my child?”

This is a question I ask myself year round. Why? Because as a speech-language pathologist, I’m passionate about supplying our clinic with toys that effectively promote communication, learning, and growth, while at the same time engage children and are endlessly fun to play with.

Clearly, this is no small task. But instead of stressing about it, here are some simple rules I use when shopping for toys, and I’d like to pass them on to you as well. Feel free to share them with your friends and family!

Avoid Do-it-All Toys

It is easy to get pulled in by the flashing lights and programmed voices of many modern toys. The truth is, however, that while these toys may have a high shelf appeal, they typically deliver limited productive play for your child. Toys that talk and have programmed sounds actually limit your child’s creativity and interaction because there is nothing left for them to imagine or sound effects for them to say.

For example, I typically search high and low to find barns with little farmers that do not talk, and little cows that do not say “moo.” In fact, I often have the most success finding toys like these at yard sales, where their owners might think they’re outdated, but they’re actually fantastic at promoting interaction.

Look for Open-Ended Toys

Have you ever watched a toddler open a present, look at it for a moment, and then promptly put it aside to play with the box it came in? This is because children gravitate toward open-ended play.

But what is an open-ended toy? These types of toys are not age-specific, and they can be played with in a variety of ways. Examples of open-ended toys include balls, scarves, Duplos/Legos, cars and blocks, play dough, cups, pots, pans, and even boxes (with adult supervision)—anything that requires a child use their imagination in order to create the play. 

Know the Stages of Play

Similar to other developmental skills, your child’s play will develop in stages, and by knowing which stage they’re currently in, as well as which stage comes next, you’ll be in a much better position to purchase gifts that enhance their learning experience.

With this said, in general, play typically develops from simple exploration to extended cooperative, imaginative play across the following stages:

  • Mouthing objects
  • Banging objects
  • Visually regarding objects
  • Manipulating objects
  • Using two objects at the same time
  • Putting objects In/Out of other objects
  • Grouping similar objects together in play
  • Cause and Effect play (think pop-up boxes, musical instruments)
  • Using toys appropriately (brushing a baby’s hair with a brush)
  • Symbolic play (using one object for another, i.e. banana for a phone)
  • Imaginative play
  • Cooperative play

For more information about the development of play, here’s a helpful article that can bring you up to speed: http://childdevelopmentinfo.com/child-development/play-work-of-children/pl2/.

Toys Do Not Need to be Expensive to be Good

Here’s the truth: Productive play doesn’t come with a price tag.

This is because paper dolls promote imagination just like plastic ones on the shelf, and sock puppets are just as good as store bought puppets. In other words, when it comes to your child’s play, get creative with your choices. And if you’re on a budget, don’t fear, because toys are all around us—just open your cupboard and watch your child begin creating.

Setting Aside Time to Play

Regardless of how awesome your child’s new toy is at helping them to communicate, learn, and grow, you’re missing out on a huge opportunity by not setting aside time to engage with them.

Instead, carve some time out of your busy schedule, get down on the floor, limit your questions, and let your child take the lead. You’ll almost certainly be surprised where you end up!

It’s All Potatoes

When it comes down to it, play is about exploration, imagination, trial and error, and sharing an experience.

I’ll never forget the day when, as an undergraduate Speech and Hearing Sciences student, I found myself watching a graduate clinician wash potatoes with his 3 year old client. Even though it seemed like the most mundane task with the simplest tools, the level of interaction, communication, interest, and fun it engendered was amazing to me. At that point, I felt like I had just witnessed something important, and still to this day I continue to feel the same way.

In short, the road to helping your child learn is paved with play, and simply by choosing the right toys—regardless of where they come from—you can greatly enhance their experience and help guide them along the path to success.

Interested in Learning More About Choosing Toys for Your Child?

If you’d like to know more about choosing therapeutic toys for your child, or ones that can help them build their communication skillset, call Sammamish Children’s Therapy today at (425) 557-6657.


About the Author

Lisa Hamblin, M.S., CCC-SLP

Lisa Hamblin, M.S., CCC-SLP

Lisa has worked with kids since her days in college coaching gymnastics for children 3-13.  Lisa is stimulated by watching children learn and succeed “their inner light shines so bright” she says, and it's this passion that serves as the foundation of SCT's mission to support and enrich the lives of children.

Lisa's therapy focuses on a child's specific needs and personality; a strategy that makes therapy feel more like play and less like work. Her specialties include autism spectrum disorders and advanced training in early speech and language development. Her training and experience with children birth to three years gives her a deep understanding of how to help children at any age. When Lisa founded SCT, she made training in birth to 3 years a requirement for all therapists as part of her effort to provide the best therapy possible for every child.

At home, Lisa has had the opportunity to guide the development of her own children – ages 17, 15, and 3. She finds relaxation in physical activities like running and rock climbing. This summer Lisa's oldest daughter will join her “on the rock” for the first time.

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