The first five years of a baby’s life are such a whirlwind for the parents. Making sure they eat enough and poop enough takes up most of your time and before you even know it, it’s time for kindergarten and you’re not sure you’ve made the most of your child’s fast-developing brain. With so much going on, it’s easy to overlook the fact that their capacity for learning is at its peak and will be mostly cemented before their bottom ever hits an elementary school chair. Kind of scary, isn’t it? Thankfully one of the best ways to ensure optimal brain development is to play with your baby—a lot. This is where educational toys come into play.
We’ve all heard experts say how educational toys are a great way to help children develop essential skills, but what exactly makes for a good toy? Won’t any old toy do as long as they have fun with it? Well, the one absolute and critical requirement for a toy is that they have to be FUN! If your child won’t play with it, then it’s basically useless. But, children need to be stimulated and to interact with the world in ways that engage their senses.
They explore their environment and learn to interact with the world through play and experiencing things firsthand. That means they will be crawling, pulling, pushing, throwing and basically doing all those things that make parents want to scream “NO!” and protect their babies from the big, bad world. Kids need to see something drop, fly, spill, crumble, spin, make noise, light up and so on because this is their main form of learning. They don’t comprehend theories and principles but they ARE beginning to actively use their imagination, discern social patterns and exercise their cognitive reasoning skills. Slowly but surely, they begin to construct rules on how the world works (e.g., “When I throw this, mommy is not happy.”)
So the answer to the question “can educational toys help my child learn better?” is a big “YES!” But the toys should be engaging and create opportunities to interact with the world because it’s the experiences that create educational value, not the toy itself. Also, stick to the “right toy at the right time” rule. It is important to find specialized toys that are suited to your child’s interests and age range. If she’s into puzzles, challenging her with increasingly harder puzzles will help with cognitive development while keeping her interest. The same goes for crafts or word games. But when it comes to educational toys for infants (under 6months) don’t get too specialized. Just find great classics, like rattles and squeaky toys, and find the time to spend with your baby.