Early Learning And The Role Of Toys

What exactly are educational toys?

New parents, and even some experienced parents, feel that educational toys are dull and boring. Nevertheless, they feel constrained to not only provide these things for their children, but insist that they use them. Hour after hour of holding alphabet flash cards in front of a three-year-old is neither educational nor fun for anyone.

The fact is that many traditional toys are also educational. Parents must understand that "educational" for children at the early learning stage doesn't mean "academic." Toys which teach skills such as recognizing visual or auditory differences and fine-motor skills are educational. Shape-sorters and ring-stackers help toddlers recognize differences in shape and size before they can put a name to each shape, size or colour. They also help develop eye-hand coordination and fine motor skills.

What skills does my child need?

Early learning skills follow a pattern. Before a child can learn to visually differentiate the more complicated shapes of the letters of the alphabet, they should be able to recognize simple shapes like circle, square and triangle. They need to be able to understand the concept of "same" and "different". There are many learning toys and games on the market which are fun and help kids learn these concepts. Games for very young children will have simple pictures with one or two differences. More advanced pictures with more subtle differences challenge older pre-schoolers. Hidden object pictures and "I Spy" books are great for strengthening children's visual differentiation skills.

Manipulatives such as tangrams and parquetry or pattern blocks are excellent learning toys, too. These are boxes of shapes which usually come with picture cards. The child first uses the coloured-in pictures to lay the blocks on top of the picture to complete a picture of an alligator or other object. The other side of the card often just has an outline which the child fills in on their own. Teddy bear counters and count and sort sets are fun for four and five year olds who enjoy handling and playing with small items. Sorting for colour, size and shape sharpens their visual and tactile senses while increasing eye-hand coordination.

Playing with tactile objects like modelling clay increases strength and agility in fingers and wrists, which is important for learning to write. Colouring and drawing also builds fine muscle strength and coordination. Colouring books with large simple drawings and few details are good for early learning stages. Learning to stay within the lines while colouring will not stifle creativity if the child is also allowed plenty of time and blank paper to scribble and draw to their heart's content. What it will do is make it much more likely that they will have good hand-writing, as they will learn to control their writing or drawing implement while having fun.

Should I work with my child?

If you think of it as work, then please leave him or her alone. If you think of it as having fun with your child while they are also learning some new skills, then it is recommended that you spend time with your kids colouring, drawing and playing with these educational toys and games. It not only builds their skills, getting them ready for more academic learning, but it builds self-confidence and a close relationship between parents and children.


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