Play is an extremely important part of childhood because it’s through it that kids learn and develop. While there are some educational apps and television shows, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends children aged 2-5 be limited to one hour of screen time a day, and focus more hands-on exploration and activity instead. Toys can help children develop physically, mentally and socially while engaging their imagination. While all kinds of play are good and there are a variety of toys you can choose from, some toys can be better than others because they can be played with in more than one way or are durable enough to last for a long period of time.
The American Occupational Therapy Association recommends parents ask the following questions when choosing toys:
• Is the toy age appropriate? Does it have small parts that might not be safe for young children?
• Is the toy durable? Can it be washed or will it break quickly?
• Can it be played with in more than one way? Blocks can be stacked to make all kinds of objects or can be used as play food.
• Does it appeal to the senses?
• Can it be used in more than one place or position?
• Does it involve the use of both hands? Toys that do help children improve coordination.
• Does it have moving parts, buttons or gears? Using their hands and fingers to touch them can help kids build up the small muscles and coordination needed for writing and similar tasks.
• Does it encourage activity and movement?
• Does it encourage thinking or problem-solving? Puzzles are great for this!
• Does it promote communication and interaction? Kitchen sets, playhouses and play tools all help them practice social skills.
Every toy doesn’t need to answer every question, but they are meant to help guide you to toys that will be worth the cost. Many times, things you already have at home are just as good as something from the store. Objects like sponges, tissues boxes or books can all be stacked like blocks or used in imaginative play.
Most toys aren’t bad, they just might not offer as much to your child in terms of development. Walkers, jumperoos and other toys that the baby sits suspended in have been positioned as toys that can help children develop skills to stand and walk, but research doesn’t support that. While they aren’t bad, specialists have found that leaning or pulling up on couches, etc. has more developmental benefits. Instead, pay attention to the recommended age for each toy to make sure it’s safe and then encourage them to play with many things. Books and blocks are great, versatile toys that children can use for years in many ways.
If you are concerned about your child’s development, bring your questions to your pediatrician’s attention so they can help put your mind at ease or determine if there is a problem. At Cone Health’s Outpatient Rehabilitation Center, our specialists work with children and their parents to help keep them on track developmentally.
Carrie Sawulski, PT, is a licensed physical therapist at Cone Health Outpatient Orthopedic and Pediatric Rehabilitation at Greensboro. Sawulski earned a specialty designation as a pediatric clinical specialist through the American Physical Therapy Association. She received a Bachelor of Science in physical therapy from Ohio State University in 1997.