Toys are a great tool to utilize in keeping children learning. And one of the great things about toys is that there are so many to choose from. Some people get caught up in trying to find “just the right toy”, but in reality, just the right toy depends on a variety of things including the age of the child, the things in which the child is interested, the subjects (if any) that the buyer wants the child to learn from, and even the budget available to the buyer. This document will focus on children ages 2 through 5 years old.
Children in younger age groups (2 and less) love to play with almost anything new! They tend to be very easy to entertain and since EVERYTHING is new to them they will learn from any of them. Children of ages 2-4 tend to be really ready to absorb new material. For this age group a good choice of toys might be a piano (or musical instrument of your choice). The instruments often have a collection of selectable, preprogrammed music that plays when the child pushes on the keys. Those same instruments usually have a “free style” mode that plays the sounds assocaiate with the keys the child presses. The sound engages them, and on top of that, the instruments may be colorful with blinking lights.
Another good toy is a “push and speak” style device. The one I have experience with is called fridge phonics. This item is amazing to me. It has small 3 diminsional alphabet and numeral pieces. The pieces can be attached to a magnet base. When a particular piece is pushed onto the base the base will sing a song about the piece, or it will say the phonetic sound “e says eh. e says eh. Every letter makes a sound. E says eh.” Before long the kid is singing along or predicting what will be said if a certain letter is put in. It will also just sing the alphabet, count, or say animals that start with the letter chosen. It is so simple and yet we saw huge results with our daughter after we had it for a while. We could hear her on the monitor at night saying the alphabet to herself in basically the same cadence that the toy did. There is no doubt she was absorbing something!
Another pretty cool toy is a LeapPad. This device is basically a talking book. It comes with a “magic pen” (stylus) that children can use to control their experience with the book. Children turn the paper pages and listen to the story (complete with different voices for each character!) or they can utilize the magic pen by pressing the tip to any word on a page. When they do they hear it pronounced. If they touch a picture they hear a sound effect (such as “chuga chuga choo choo” for a train). There is a HUGE library of LeapPad books and the learning system (LeapFrog) continues up through around 3rd grade. Kids love these things and are glad to let you share the experience with them or interact with one of their stories by themselves.
Only a few toys have been mentioned here, but this is certainly not an exhaustive list. I only mentioned toys that I have first hand experience with and that made a lasting impression on me for one reason or another. This article was also limited to fairly young children. We’ll add suggestions for older kids toys soon.