Toys That Last - 8 Easy Rules for Choosing Young Children’s Play Equipment

18 April 2018

Buy Better Toys - 8 Easy Rules for Choosing Young Children’s Play Equipment

Let’s say you are planning to buy some new toys for your preschooler. It’s probably a safe bet that you already have a collection of unused toys stashed somewhere in your home that your preschooler largely ignores. So how can you make better toy purchases for your little one that will be more lasting in appeal and use? Here are eight easy guidelines for choosing play equipment for preschoolers:

  1. A young child’s playthings should be as free of detail as possible. Your little one needs freedom to express themselves by creating their own world. And too much detail hampers rather than helps. "Super toys" like blocks are the best example of unstructured toys. Blocks, construction sets, and other unstructured toys and materials such as clay, sand, and paints allow your preschooler’s imagination free rein and are foundational playthings. Check out our blog, Super Toys, for more information on why these unstructured toys are best for supporting your child’s early learning.
  2. A plaything should stimulate children to do things for themselves. Toys that make the child a spectator, such as a mechanical toy, may entertain for the moment. But they involve little or no play and therefore, have little learning value. Equipment provided for your preschooler's play should encourage children to explore, to create or offer the opportunity for dramatic play. Look out for toys that empower your child's creativity. Part 1 of our blog series on Children’s Creativity - Four Essential Skills has more helpful ways for you to tap into the value of your child's creative play.
  3. Young children need large, easily manipulated playthings. Because young children’s small muscle coordination is not yet developed enough to handle smaller forms and shapes, toys that are too small can be a source of frustration  For example, tiny Lego blocks aren’t appropriate for preschoolers. Larger blocks, 3 inches and larger, are easier for tiny fingers and hands to manipulate-- and most importantly, to create things with. Head over to our Child Development Guide to learn more about on your child's age, their small motor development and skills.
  4. The material from which a plaything is made has an important role in your young child's play.  Warmth and pleasurable touch are significant to a young child, because the sense of touch is one of the key ways young children learn. Toys made out of wood and cloth are excellent sensory materials for preschoolers. Other materials like play dough and finger paint offer preschoolers unlimited ways to expand their sensory experiences as well. Our Super Simple Play Dough or A Play In Five Senses activities are easy ways to involve their small motor and sensory experiences.
  5. The durability of a plaything is of utmost importance. Play materials have got to be sturdy. Little ones hate to see their toys break. So when you're buying play equipment like tricycles, be sure its axles and wheels are strong enough to support a growing child’s weight. Ask yourself, “Will this last my child through several stages of their playing life?” Consider the long term use of everyday items such as art materials too. Don’t let price be your only factor in purchasing. Inexpensive crayons, for example, will break more easily and have to be replaced more frequently. In the long run, cheaper items can actually be more expensive. Our Preschool Materials Guide has tried-and-true information on appropriate, affordable art materials for your preschooler.
  6. The toy must work. What frustration when a door or drawer won’t shut, wheels get stuck, or figures won’t stand up! Test the toy before purchasing. Be sure its parts move correctly and that maintenance will be as carefree as possible.
  7. The construction of a plaything should be simple enough for your child to understand. The ability to see how something is built will strengthen your child’s understanding and experience of the world. If a toy has mechanics, they should be visible and easily grasped. For example, make sure they can see how the wheels on a toy truck are attached. This way, small children will be able to take them on and off to see how they work. Or, the wheels can be used in other creative ways!
  8. A plaything should encourage cooperative play. As we seek to teach our children to work and play together, it’s important to provide an environment and toys that stimulate such play. For example, a wagon is a piece of play equipment that encourages children to play together. They can fill the wagon with things and pull one another in it. Preschoolers are by nature self-centered, as explained in my blog, Preschoolers Think Differently - 4 Unique Ways Very Young Children See the World and play equipment that helps encourage sharing is good practice in learning to think of others. Interested in learning more about your preschooler's play and their growing social skills? Check out my blog, Stages of Young Children's Play

Using these basic guidelines, I'm sure that you’ll find that toys you purchase won’t end up forgotten on the bottom of your preschooler’s pile.  Speaking of piles, you can have some learning-filled and early math skills fun organizing yours with my blog, Conquer Clutter - How to Manage Your Kid’s Playthings. And don't forget to let us know what you think! You can share your feedback right here.