Playtime and enjoyable experiences promote learning. This is why toys and child development actually go hand-in-hand.
In a brief titled ‘learning through play’ Unicef shared that play is an essential part of learning. Play and toys are associated with developing motor skills, problem solving, self-awareness, a deeper understanding of life and social situations. Toys and play also help to build emotional wellbeing amongst other crucial skills. Toys, as long as they are relevant to the child’s life experiences, enjoyable to the child and evoke positive feelings within the child will likely to be beneficial to child development.
According to Unicef, research over the last 30 years has showed us that the most important developmental years are between the ages of birth to eight years old. The development during these years is foundational to humans and sets people up for success later in life.
Here are 10 ways in which toys aid child development.
Cognitive development refers to the overall development of how children think. It is a broad term that includes thought processes, the ability to solve problem and understand the world around them. Cognitive development includes a range of skills like emotional intelligence, social competence, creative thinking, imagination and overall mental health. It encompasses a lot.
Parents can help children with cognitive development by giving them the right tools (or toys) in line with their developmental needs.
Toys are foundational to child development and if parents match toys to a child’s developmental needs, children will be set up for success—not only in their young life but their adult life too.
Part of emotional development is the exploration of the world and the child’s place in it. Emotional well-being is the ability to understand process and work through feelings within constraints and social norms.
Emotional wellbeing encompasses social competence, conflict and problem solving.
Emotional well-being can be developed through toys by playing group games, which teaches sharing, patience, general human connection and social interaction.
Through role play children can develop social awareness and competence.
Social competence is developed through toys like dolls. Dolls can be customised to resemble children and their friends to encourage play and exploration of social situations in a safe, but real way. Children can create situations in which they’re familiar and use play to explore different ways to handle them.
For parents who want to work on social skills with children, they can introduce play by demonstrating, with toys, the right way to handle different social interactions.
Influencing interests in career choices
Toys and child development doesn’t just stop as children grow up. The toys children play with might even influence children in their careers.
As children form emotional connections to their toys, they are beginning to figure out what they love, which social situations matter to them the most and where they see themselves in the world.
Creative thinking and imagination
Toys spark imagination and if you’ve witnessed the joy of play, you’ve experienced the scope of a child’s imagination. Wooden toys, in particular are known for enhancing imagination. The simplicity of the wooden toy sparks imagination as it is generally more open to interpretation. One wooden toy can be so many different things and cover so many different roles. A wooden handbell, for example can be shaped like a bird, but it can be any bird. It is not defined by colour, size or its features. The type of bird, its character is up to the child entirely.
Cause and effect
As babies grow, you will notice that they gravitate towards toys that have some form of cause and effect. They’re fascinated and love pressing for sound or switches to change toys appearances or make something pop up.
The fascination with cause and effect is a great way to develop motor skills too! The effect of their button press or hand clap motivates children to engage with the toy and practice their motor skills
Problem solving and conflict resolution
Pretend play fuels imagination by adding toys and props to play. Pretend play takes imagination to a new level. With pretend play children can become anything they like - teachers, nurses mums and dads or superheroes, astronauts and so much more.
Through pretend play children are using toys to aid child development by acting out different situations. Pretend play is also a fantastic way to build social competence. Toys like this wooden doctor toy set can be used to pretend play a trip to the doctors. In doing this, parents are introducing a new content and therefore reducing anxieties when a real doctors appointment is coming up.
Sensory play develops the 5 senses
Sensory play is play that develops the 5 senses: taste, touch, sight, hearing and smell.
It helps children become more self-aware, increases their understanding of the world around them and sensory toys can have the added benefit of helping to calm and relax children.
Parents can create a sensory environment by providing children with toys that enhance these skills. Toys that encourage sensory play include: water and sand boxes, lights, finger painting, putty, play-dough, toys that make noise/rattle. The list could go on and on.
Sensory play opens a world of exploration for children.
Play in general will develop physical health in any child, particularly play that involves running, biking, walking - any movement.
Toys have a place in physical health by acting as a motivator to walk or run. Toys can also develop agility, stamina, co-ordination and balance.
When it comes to co-ordination, don’t underestimate the power of wooden building block that will develop those motor skills, agile skills and balancing skills from a very early age. These small developments make big differences.
Toys and child development in mental health is powerful. Toys can aid the development of mental health by teaching children healthy practices for communication. Toys can help them identify, process, understand and share their feelings in a healthy way.