26 June 2008 09:30 AM

My Favorite Toys

by Dr. Rick
I see lists everywhere of educators’ favorite toys and games for children, as if we know exactly what’s good for all children. I’ll let you in on a secret: we don’t. Parents know better than we do.

But we educators can help you make some better decisions about the money you spend on toys and games. After all, there are lots of toys and games out there. Many of them are very expensive, and marketers do their best to convince kids to convince their parents to buy, buy, buy.

Here’s the thing though - kids’ interests change quickly. I’m of the opinion that you don’t have to spend loads of money on something they’re going to outgrow or lose their interest in by next Thursday.

Electronic games? They’re fine especially games like Wii that get kids up and moving. But they can also be expensive. Give in to your kids’ interests, not just to what’s hot and new. Do your homework.

So here’s a list, not necessarily of specific titles and manufacturers (although I’ve included a few), but of categories of games and toys that deserve your consideration. Some are new - many are timeless classics that have been delighting children for years.

Toys and games that build creativity. Look for toys and games that encourage children to think creatively, to solve fun problems in multiple ways. This will help with school subjects like math, which, after all, is problem solving. Building toys and games are excellent (simple building blocks and Legos are as popular now as they always have been), as are science kits and engineering sets. Other favorites include Duplo for younger kids and Kinex for older kids. Don’t forget old favorites from Crayola and Playdoh, Check out www.discovery.com. A young friend loved the Nintendo game “Animal Crossing.” He enjoyed showing me the environments he created and peopled. A fourth grader now, he’s moved on to Mario Kart and Sims, but the involvement stays the same.

Toys and games that encourage learning new things. Look for toys and games that can build vocabulary or math skills in fun ways that don’t look like vocabulary or math (Taboo, Blurt, Monopoly, Chutes and Ladders). Or that build knowledge in other areas, like science, the environment, horseback riding, sports, history, geography, whatever your child shows an interest in. Remember, interests change quickly, so don’t go spending a fortune at the first sign of interest. Buy a simple deck of cards to teach math, for instance (War, Old Maid, Go Fish). Develop the interest, then spend the money, not the other way around.

Toys and games that encourage movement. Kids need plenty of exercise. Consider investing in simple athletic equipment that allows kids to experiment with various sports to see which ones they like and may have some talent with. Show them how to use it. Share your knowledge and talents - or even more fun, your lack of it – and get out in the yard and kick the soccer ball, throw the football, jump the rope. Use chalk for hopscotch. Blow bubbles and chase them around the yard.

Toys and games that encourage new interests. Childhood is a time for experimentation with the new and exciting. Consider toys and games that cultivate interests in the arts, science, or special interests and talents that your family values. Photography? Classical music? The military? Politics? Portrait painting? Raising show dogs? Designing video games? Growing the largest pumpkin at the county fair? The list is infinite. Just remember, it’s your kid’s interest not yours.

Toys and games that stimulate interest in other cultures and parts of the world. We Americans are known for our lack of knowledge about the world. As the world shrinks, it’s increasingly important for our kids to know as much as possible about the world’s places, cultures, and peoples. Consider toys and games that provoke such interests. Check out the gift shops at local museums for cool toys and games. I like the Smithsonian (www.si.edu). Learning a new language or even sparking exciting and fulfilling travel in the future could be a result. More and more colleges are requiring semesters abroad – get a head start.

Check out community calendars in your neighborhood. Is there a Korean Fair? Little Italy? Greektown? Visit them. Try the food.

No question, the most important characteristic of the best toys and games is the ability for kids and parents to play together from time to time. Inexpensive board games do this every bit as well as expensive computer games. Kids want to be with you. Each wants to feel as if he’s your favorite - that he doesn’t have to share you with brothers and sisters for just a little while. They just want you. Look for toys and games that can do that, even ones that aren’t hot and heavily marketed. You won’t go wrong.




Add comment


  • Comment
  • Preview

Blog Posting Rules

This blog is for the good of education - for students, for teachers and for parents. I very much value a two-way communication with you and welcome and encourage your comments and feedback. However, to facilitate a constructive conversation that is beneficial to everyone in this online community, I expect the same respect in your comments that I present in my blog.

Read the full Dr. Rick Blog Posting Rules.