Kids are drawn to toys like moths are to a flame. Even when there are no toys in sight, children will fashion them out of whatever they have available. This leads us to ask the question “What is the importance of toys in child development?” Kids already seem to innately know what they need and they tend to gravitate in that direction.
That being said, what does the research say?
According to the Power of Play, A Research Summary on Play and Learning by Dr. Rachel E. White through the Minnesota Children’s Museum, “Through the training of mature pretend play, children learn to use toys and props symbolically, develop consistent and extensive narratives, maintain rules and roles, and plan play scenarios from beginning to end. (Bodrova, Leong, Atwill, Ko, & Saifer. 2009) Toys are simply objects that children use to entertain themselves while simultaneously exploring the world around them, educating themselves, role-playing, and learning to express their emotions.
Toys are oftentimes used as symbols for other things and there in lies their great potential for helping children grasp bigger concepts.
Let’s look for a moment at 5 important points to consider when it comes to toys and child development.
1. Open-ended toys can spark creativity and imagination.
Toys that can be played with in a multitude of ways help your child’s brain expand and get them thinking in narratives. This, in turn, helps them to see the world more broadly. Creativity is so important to nurture and helps kids learn to think outside of the box.
When items as simple as blocks, dolls, animal toys, balls, mini-cars, or pretend food are handed to a child, they will take these as invitations to start creating stories and living out scenarios in their mind. A child’s play is truly their first classroom. Even with objects that aren’t initially designed to be toys, kids will quickly re-assign them as such, especially if that is all they have available. A stick, a rock, a container, a box...all of these are great candidates for helping your child boost their imagination.
2. Toys teach kids about STEAM.
Kids have brains like sponges. They are always inputting information from their surroundings. Toys give kids another avenue to explore science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics. Whether a toy is simple or complex, it has a lesson to teach your child and stresses the importance of toys in child development.
When your child builds a tower with blocks and eventually watches it fall to the ground, that is a lesson in physics. Watching a remote control car bounce around just from the radio waves of the controller gets kids curious about how it all works. A puzzle stimulates your child’s brain and helps them explore patterns. Never underestimate the power of education when it comes to toys. Kids learn more through creative play because it is engaging to their senses. This gives them a cognitive edge and makes them excited to continue to explore more about the world around them.
3. Toys refine a child’s motor development.
When a child grasps a toy and learns to manipulate it, they are practicing their motor skills and becoming more adept at hand/eye coordination. This helps your child advance through the stages of physical development.
Toys that require them to push, pull, grab, pinch, turn, or otherwise use their hands and body to make it do something are instrumental in a child’s growth. Small toys, such as dolls, cars, and blocks that fit into your child’s hands tend to be favorites because they are easy to hold and carry. Using their hands to position their toys or stuff them into their pockets give kids ultimate control. Smaller details found on toys, such as buttons or zippers or beads give children practice with fine motor details.
Larger toys that kids manipulate with their whole body are equally useful in helping a child develop physically. Whether that includes throwing or catching a beach ball, learning to ride a bike, or jumping on a pogo stick, kids that master these skills are better able to handle harder tasks later.
As wonderful and important as toys can be, keep in mind that a child can be overwhelmed with too many options. Quantity is not better than quality when it comes to toys. It is better to have fewer toys that your child can do more with than more toys that just collect around the play space creating clutter. If you notice that your child is struggling with cleaning up their toys, dealing with big emotions during playtime, or says “I’m bored” despite having a lot of toys, chances are good that their emotional well-being is being affected by the over-abundance of toys in their area.
5.Toys can help a child emotionally mature.
Toys provide connection, positive memories, and a way to interact with their feelings. Have you ever noticed how attached children become to their playthings? This is a phenomenon that generally promotes healthy and positive bonding. Kids associate their toys with love, attention, and happiness. So, when they bestow affection on their toys, they are cultivating and fostering sweet childhood memories.
In turn, they also associate their playmates or parents who play with them and their toys as parts of these emotional connections. Toys also can provide a safe place or face if they need to talk about anything that troubles or scares them. Children who spend hours in wonderful play with their toys tend to have a healthier and happier childhood which they can look back to with fondness. This can help them transition easier to adulthood as they have fully been able to experience being a child. The Takeaway: The importance of toys in child development is something that we as parents need to consider both in terms of what type of toys we provide, as well as how many to give them with. Remember that kids don’t necessarily need more, they need better.