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Educational Toys

Learn how educational toys can foster a child's development.

Educational toys can help aid in the development of a child's physical, mental and social skills. [©Jupiter Images, 2009]
©Jupiter Images, 2009
Educational toys can help aid in the development of a child's physical, mental and social skills.

Children start learning from the moment they are born, and carefully selected educational toys can aid in a baby's development. Toys help children and adults interact, and these interactions enhance early brain development and the ability to learn. Quality playtime between adults and children can also help improve a child's self-esteem and level of daily skills mastery. Toys should be carefully selected based on a child's developmental and personal needs. There are a number of educational toys that will aid in the development of a child's physical, mental and social skills.

What to Look for in a Toy

Toys for infants are generally used for looking, sucking, listening and fingering. Younger infants enjoy seeing and hearing things, but as they grow, they enjoy mouthing, shaking, touching, banging, twisting, squeezing, throwing, kicking and batting objects. Infants like to see bright colors, clear lines and features, simple designs, high contrast and human facial features, especially eyes. Toys will be more entertaining to a child if they move or make noise. Older infants enjoy simple mechanisms, containers and appearing and disappearing objects. To ensure that toys are safe for an infant, be aware of sharp edges, small parts, toxic materials, long strings, parts that may entrap fingers or toes and electrical parts.

Active Toys

Infants 12 months and younger begin to develop physical skills such as gaining control of their hands; learning to crawl, stand and walk; and practicing motor skills. Toys that allow active play for this age group include clutch balls, texture balls and soft squeeze balls. Simple push toys without rods, such as animals or cars on wheels or rollers, allow infants to work on grasping objects and causing a reaction. Parents magazine recommends soft balls with bright colors and words, letters or numbers.

Manipulative Toys

Infants love to explore textures and as they get older, they begin to show a great interest in object mastery. They enjoy stacking, banging, twisting, inserting and mouthing toys. Toys that will assist in these skills include soft stacking blocks, lightweight and brightly colored puzzles, teethers, rattles and squeeze toys. Babies also respond very well to crib gyms and mobiles as they enjoy watching hanging objects that move or make noise. Parenting.com recommends stackable blocks with different stimulating surfaces and bright colors. At about seven months, infants will show a great interest in bath time and may enjoy kicking and splashing. Simple floating toys for bath time will add to an infant's general enjoyment and exploration.

Creative Toys

Young infants begin to explore the world through sounds by reacting to sounds and beginning to coo and laugh. Babies may also attempt to imitate sounds around them. Because of this, it is a good idea to introduce infants to sounds and music through audio equipment such as tapes, CDs and music boxes. As infants get older, they may enjoy making sounds through various rattlers, blocks and musical instruments.

Make-Believe Toys

The development of a child's imagination is incredibly important and parents can select toys that will aid in this development. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, parents should avoid passive toys that require limited imagination and should avoid "over-playing" with children, and instead lay out materials and allow the child to use his or her imagination. For infants, a number of toys assist in the development of a keen imagination, including soft dolls or rag dolls, plush animals and hand puppets moved by adults. Infants develop a strong interest in people's faces and will smile at mirror reflections. Because of this, mounting mirrors on a baby's crib, car seat, stroller or playpen is a great way to foster a child's imagination and general exploration.

Learning Toys

Although infants are too young to learn to read, they begin to develop an interest in picture books and will often enjoy being read to. Therefore, parents are encouraged to begin reading simple stories to their child. As infants get older and their motor skills strengthen, they may enjoy playing with board books, cloth books and plastic books. Avoid books with paper pages unless they are used during "lap reading," when an adult is present.

Parents seeking additional references for appropriate educational toys can consult Parents magazine and Parenting.com for more good ideas.

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