Toys that Teach
If you study the childhoods of great men and women from the past, you will find that they spent much of their time reading books, playing imaginative games, observing nature, and exploring the world around them. The lives of modern children can be enriched in a similar way, with the added benefit of educational toys, games, and other learning products.
Childhood is a special, magical time. It is also a critical period when many lifelong abilities are being developed. Thus, it is a good idea to choose children's toys wisely, looking for those that enlighten, inspire, and educate. As these toys are nourishing and entertaining growing young minds, they are also giving the child a head start on learning.
Consider the child who is excited about getting a new toy for Christmas, only to become bored with it before the day is over. Cheap plastic toys are easily broken or set aside and forgotten, but high quality educational alternatives tend to be used more often because they are engaging and interesting. This means that even though they may have a higher price tag, they will have a longer lasting value.
Educational toys combine fun and learning by stimulating creativity and imagination, expanding the mind through exploration and discovery, promoting critical thinking and problem solving, improving dexterity, and providing practice in basic skills. They are designed to challenge, motivate, and reward while helping to build self-esteem and the confidence to master new tasks. Educational toys that are targeted to specific skills corresponding to particular age groups are called developmental toys.
Some toys that are labeled "educational" are more educational than others. For example, there are a lot of high-tech toys on the market, a few of which are nothing more than electronic flashcards. The best educational toys are not necessarily electronic; many don't even require batteries. Products that encourage learning through play include: puzzles, games, art and craft kits, science and nature sets, blocks, dolls, and many classic favorites.
Traditional educational classics include: chess and checkers which promote logical thinking, Monopoly which teaches money management, Scrabble which reinforces spelling and vocabulary, Pick-Up Sticks that provide practice in dexterity, Play-Doh that promotes creativity, and Legos which can be used to construct anything from storybook scenes to models of famous structures.
By the way, if you have ever been to the Legoland theme park, you may have noticed that most of the rides and activities there are kid-powered and interactive. They provide multi-sensory ways of learning through seeing, hearing, touching, and doing. The Lego company seems to have a clear understanding of how children's lives are enriched through active interaction with their surroundings.
For this same reason, I believe that a mountain bike is a better choice for a child than an ATV. Bikes are fun to ride while providing exercise and allowing for close observation and interaction with the environment. An ATV may be fun to ride, but it doesn't improve one's physical fitness, plus the noise and speed makes the rider miss a lot along the way. Thus, a bike is more useful for developing minds and bodies.
Between all of the high-tech equipment and other after-school options that are available these days, people tend to forget that children still have an innate need for good old-fashioned "make-believe," which is open-ended, imaginative play. This means plenty of time away from the TV, computers, video games, and organized activities.
It's okay for children to be bored sometimes, because this gives them a chance to dream, to wonder, to imagine, and to invent things on their own. Remember that creative geniuses such as Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein, and Frank Lloyd Wright made significant contributions to mankind simply by thinking "outside the box."
Finally, when choosing an educational toy you must consider whether it is appropriate for the child's age, intellectual development, abilities and interests. Don't feel that you have to follow the age labels, because these can be misleading. Look for products that are sturdy and safe, simple enough for the child to operate on his/her own, and which are challenging but not frustrating.
Creative and educational gifts include: puppets, a costume box, activity toys, musical instruments, rhythm instruments, blocks, globe, puzzles, board games, K'Nex, Legos, construction set, model building kit, magnets, microscope, telescope, binoculars, chemistry set, science experiment kit, electronic circuitry kit, kids cooking set, play store with cash register, craft kit, art supplies, easel and paints, modeling clay, etc.
Educational products can be found at toy stores (Toys R Us, Learning Express), school supply stores (Learning is Fun, Hammett's Learning World), art supply stores (Michael's, JoAnn), map stores (Wide World of Maps), music stores (Music Mart), etc. Educational toy manufacturers include: Brio, Educational Insights, Fisher-Price, K'Nex, Lamaze, Leap Frog, Lego, Playskool, Ravensburger, V-Tech, etc.
Did You Know…? Frank Lloyd Wright, the famous American architect, received a set of wooden blocks from his mother when he was nine years old. These blocks were in the shapes of cubes, rectangles, cylinders, pyramids, cones, and spheres. The blocks were invented by Friedrich Froebel, founder of the first kindergarten. While playing with the blocks, young Frank learned mathematical concepts such as geometry, shape, structure, and pattern. He observed how big shapes are made from small parts. This educational toy inspired him in his future profession. Many years later, John Lloyd Wright, son of the renowned architect, invented Lincoln Logs after seeing the construction technique that his father used for the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo, Japan.
http://drtoy.com (Information on the best toys and educational products, as well as articles, resources, and related links from Dr. Toy.)
www.toyportfolio.com (Oppenheim Toy Portfolio, an independent guide to the best toys for kids.)
www.parents-choice.org (Parents' Choice Award-winning toys that help kids grow imaginatively, physically, morally and mentally.)
www.educational-toy-guide.com (Informative guide to educational toys.)
www.constplay.com (Constructive Playthings)
www.museumtour.com (Museum Tour)
www.youngexplorers.com (Young Explorers)
www.highlights.com (Highlights for Children Catalog)
www.imaginetoys.com (Imagine Toys)
www.ttgo.com (Toys to Grow On)
www.scientificsonline.com (Edmund Scientifics)
MAIL-ORDER & WEB RESOURCES
American Science & Surplus, www.sciplus.com, 847-647-0011. A unique mix of items for the hobbyist, tinkerer, artist, experimenter, home educator, do-it-yourselfer, and bargain hunter.
Back to Basics, www.backtobasicstoys.com, 1-800-356-5360. Classic toys, games, and hobbies: "They do make them like they used to!"
Childcraft, www.childcrafteducation.com, 1-800-631-5652. An online wonderland of art supplies and craft projects, dolls and puppets, toys and puzzles, educational materials and musical toys.
Constructive Playthings, www.constplay.com, 1-800-832-0572. Products for pretend play and creativity.
Edmund Scientifics, www.scientificsonline.com, 1-800-728-6999. High quality products and gifts for science and engineering enthusiasts, students, hobbyists, and families.
HearthSong, www.hearthsong.com, 1-800-325-2502. Enriching products that inspire creativity and imaginative play, teach respect and cooperation, strengthen family relationships, and support the celebration of life.
Highlights for Children Catalog, www.highlights.com, 1-800-422-6202. Quality products for helping children grow in basic skills and knowledge, in creativeness, in the ability to think and reason, and in sensitivity to others.
Imagine the Challenge, www.imaginetoys.com, 1-888-777-1493. Toys that inspire the imagination.
Magic Cabin, www.magiccabin.com, 1-888-623-6557. "Childhood's purest treasures" - a unique selection of heirloom quality, all-natural dolls, toys, and crafts that encourage creative, imaginative play.
MindWare, www.mindwareonline.com, 1-800-999-0398. Brainy toys, puzzles, games, and books that promote logical thinking and creative problem solving.
Museum Tour, www.museumtour.com, 1-800-360-9116. Award-winning educational toys, science projects, and family crafts that promote informal learning and exploration for all ages.
Music For Little People, www.mflp.com, 1-800-409-2457. Musical instruments, inspirational recordings, imaginative games, toys, gifts, and DVDs.
Smarter Kids, www.smarterkids.com. Educational products for children from infancy through age eight.
Toys to Grow On, www.ttgo.com, 1-800-987-4454. Toys for pretend play, adventure, discovery, and fun, for babies to ages 10 and up.
Young Explorers, www.youngexplorers.com, 1-800-239-7577. High quality educational toys and games that stimulate creativity and curiosity.
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