Giving your child the best in life is something we all aspire to do; best home, best food, best upbringing, best education. It’s easy to provide all of these things with a little elbow grease and a lot of dedication and time, but when it comes to education, the costs can really add up.
It starts early with educational toys; talking games, blinking lights, expensive apps, and flash cards that all promise to help prepare your children for a brighter future. The jury is out on whether or not children actually gain any advantage when it comes to these types of toys. You don’t fancy toys – many studies have shown that simple toys help children with spatial awareness, early mathematic skills, counting, pre-literacy, and emotional regulation.
So, here’s how to figure out what’s really educational and/or useful, and our suggestions for how to get the biggest bang for your buck.
How do you decide?
First things first, pick toys of quality construction. You’re not going to get a lot of learning done with toys that break with regular use. A toy should be made with good quality fastenings, and have a bit of weight to it. If it lights up, talks, or needs batteries, leave it on the shelf. Toys that give feedback not only take away from your child’s imagination, they becoming unbelievably annoying about 10 minutes after you open the package.
Puzzle it out
Puzzles help developing minds with pre-literacy skills as well as spatial awareness. The area in the brain responsible for helping you recognize which shapes fit where is the same area of the brain responsible for distinguishing between similarly shaped letters, such as b and d, p and q, a and o.
Puzzles also come in a variety of sizes and difficulties, making them a great skill-building toy for years to come. A simple puzzle is a great beginner item because your child can complete it in a variety of ways.
Having fun with a sensory board
Many children are sensory learners, which means that their brains absorb more information when they are able to touch, smell, and experience an idea or concept. With a simple sensory board, children are able to practice letters, numbers, and other fine motor skills with the added sensation of feeling the sand or salt as well as watching the shape of the sand or salt change as they run their fingers through it. A sensory board can be purchased or made at home with a small crate and some fine grain salt.
Don’t forget the abacus!
The workhorse of the educational toy aisle, an abacus is a child’s best friend when it comes to counting, addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. You will be hard pressed to find a simpler toy that can achieve the workload of the abacus.
Start small – play a simple game with the abacus. When it’s your turn, you say a number, such as 42, and the child “makes” it or shows it on the abacus. Then the child says a number for you and you show it on the abacus. Continue taking turns like this. Increase the challenge when your child is ready.
Another method is to choose (for example) 6 beads on one wire and 8 on the next one. You can show how the 5 and 5 on those two wires makes 10, and some are left over. The possibilities are endless — an abacus is yet another toy that will grow with your child.
Providing your child with educational toys doesn’t have to cost you an arm and a leg. A rock thrown across a pond, a doll lovingly cared for, even cutting fruit for a Sunday breakfast are all wonderful learning opportunities for children that build foundational skills to last a lifetime. Enjoying time together is the most important thing for your child, everything else will fall into place with time and practice.