26 April 2017
In 2016, U.S. consumers spent over 26 billion dollars on toys. And I’m pretty certain that a large percentage of those toys are now sitting unused at the bottom of toy piles all across the U.S.A. So. When you’re buying your next toy, I’d like for you to be an informed “super toy” consumer, so your toys maximize your budget as well as your preschooler's growth.
Here’s how to identify your super toys: Super toys are open-ended toys which can be used over and over in a multitude of ways. Super toys have endless possibilities. They don’t stand for only one thing like a toy fire engine or a baby doll. They also are not limited by a child’s age, they will last and be fun for many years to come. Your child will keep pulling them out and playing with them over time, inventing new uses for these toys as they grow. For example, let’s look at one of the best known super toys-- blocks. A toddler loves to pile them up and knock them down, learning about balance, size, cause and effect. As your child grows, they use their blocks to build specific places or things that represent things in their lives, such as their house or school. Older children, 5 years and above will become even more realistic and detailed with their blocks, creating their neighborhood or even their city. (You can get more in depth information on specific ages and types of preschool play in our blog, Stages of Young Children's Play.)
Research also finds that super toys are toys that appeal to both boys and girls. Super toys categorized as neutral or moderately masculine were rated most likely to be educational and to develop children’s physical, mental, artistic, and other skills. The researchers concluded that strongly gender-typed toys appear to be less supportive of optimal development than neutral or moderately gender-typed toys. Toys that have traditionally been viewed as male oriented-- construction toys and toy vehicles, for example-- elicited the highest quality play among girls. If you want to develop your child’s physical, mental, and creative skills, super toys that are not strongly gender-typed are more likely to do this. With your child’s growth in mind, try to set aside previous conceptions about what inspires male and female play and concentrate instead on what is best developmentally for your preschooler. Buy, find, or create super toys that are not strongly focused on one gender.
So where can you find super toys? Super toys include crayons, markers, paper, paste, paint, and all kinds of creative materials like the ones we share in our Materials guide and use in Skilly-do activities. Plus, many super toys are completely free or things typically found around your home. I bet you probably already have some of the most engaging super toys just lying around! Cardboard boxes, plastic bowls and lids, collections of bottle caps, and other “treasures” can be used in more than one way by children of different ages. For example, have you seen a 3-year old with bubble wrap, or a 4-year old with some tape? These simple, everyday things are fascinating super toys for preschoolers because they have never-ending possibilities for play.
Armed with this knowledge about what defines a super toy, here are some ideas to consider when sorting through your preschooler’s pile of toys and before making another trip to the toy store:
- Avoid buying toys that look “cute” to you. Instead select each toy with age-appropriate play and your child’s growth in mind. For example, ask yourself, “What difference will this toy make to the growth of my 3-year-old’s small or large motor skills? How will it help my child’s intellectual growth?” Skilly-do members can check out our Child Development Guide for helpful insights on preschool development milestones and skills.
- Work toward a balanced toy environment, one with many sources of creative expression. Consider each new toy in light of what you already have. Basically, your child’s toy collection should be a mix of super toys, including both princess and wheel toys.
- Select items that appeal to all five senses of young children. In addition to toys for large and small motor skills, toys should be stimulating to see, interesting to touch, and satisfying to maneuver.
- Spend some time with your child to go through and weed out less-used or outgrown toys together. Can you or your child give a reason for keeping each of the toys in the pile? Can you remember why you bought that toy in the first place? This is an excellent learning experience for your preschooler in critical thinking and decision making. From my experience, I find that the children are much more ready to let go of things than their parents. Kids don’t have your sentimental reasons for holding onto toys, they simply know they don’t play with them any more.
As your preschooler grows up, all of these points still hold true. Using these guidelines may help you start to maintain and grow your child’s toy collection so that it’s the best it can be. Don't forget to let me know what tips were most helpful and to add a few of your own!
For inspiration, check out our Kitchen Science and Easy Peasy collections for activities that involve super toy materials. Want to know more about how super toys can engage with your child's development? Read our blog Prime Times for Brain Development.