For many years now child psychologists and educational specialists have known the value and importance of play in a child’s emotional and educational development.
As time goes on, we are refining the process considerably. It is now the case that educational toys and games can be designed and manufactured to cater for very specific needs for young children.
Targeting specific aspects of educational growth, these toys can raise awareness of a child’s surroundings, educate child in basic numeracy and literacy and even encourage an emotional understanding of the world in which they live.
As a parent myself, I decided to look into the possibilities of assisting my child’s natural growth and education in her preschool years. Acknowledging the importance of play as a fun activity that should not be too regimented, and allowing my daughter to enjoy using her imagination, I set about looking for a range of toys and games suitable for preschool children.
At the time the government of the United Kingdom had a system known as Early Years Foundation Stage or EYFS for short. The idea behind this was to promote positive learning through structured play. Allowing a parent’s to provide a child with the correct toys and learning experience and to focus on any particular areas of need.
So what areas in particular can we expect to see improvement?
Before a child is able to grasp and manipulate objects themselves it is important to work on recognition and cognitive skills. Colorful toys and books that are held by the parent or carer are the first group to explore.
Interaction between the carer and child are vital to keep the youngster engaged in the process. You will find at some stage the child will “reach out” to grab the item in question – and probably drop it a few times in the process. Bearing in mind the sorts of toys and activities used at this stage need to be very child friendly (i.e no sharp edges, not to heavy, not fit in the child’s mouth etc) there are any number of factors that make a toy or activity engaging and worthwhile. After safety, it’s safe to assume that colour and movement rank very highly.
Once some level of motor skills are developed it’s time to improve the ability of your child to handle and manipulate objects. Blocks, fabric books and easy to solve puzzles rank highly. Not forgetting the all important “activity centre”. Motor skills can improve at an astonishing rate given the right environment. It’s not uncommon for a child to go from “unable to grasp simple objects” to “able to manipulate and solve simple block puzzles” in a matter of days. A very rewarding time for parents.
From this stage there are many other more specific areas that can be explored. The most obvious being simple numeracy and literacy “one, two, three” or “D-O-G is dog” It is important not to expect the child to grasp this in a way that is meaningful in adult terms, but rest assured the information structure and associations are being built none-the-less.
What are the exact toys and games a parent or carer should use?
It is a delicate line to follow. Educational toys and games have been criticised in the past four not being as fun as some of the more hedonistic activities available to children. But as we progress, this is becoming less of an issue as modern toys, games, and puzzles for children no longer have this stigma attached to them. Those that develop these activities have learned just what sort of interaction a child needs to have to maintain long-term interest in any particular activity or form of play.
Luckily, we live in a time where there is increasing awareness of the role that structured play can play in a child’s development. The next step will be to see some level of consistency in terms of both the toys and games themselves, and the advice and resources given to parents.
While there is a great deal of crossover in the functionality of these products, it is possible for a concerned parent to focus on such specific growth areas as awareness, emotional well-being, tactile ability, preschool science, basic numeracy and literacy as well as the very important aspects of sharing and acknowledging others with group play.
It should go without saying that all the educational play products available for preschool children in the United Kingdom are first rigorously tested for safety and durability. Parents can now rest assured that when buying from within the UK, the activities and toys they buy for their child will conform to the most stringent safety standards.
I have now managed to bring together a modest collection of educational toys and games for my daughter, and it gives me as much pleasure as it gives her to see the enjoyment she gets from playing with these toys. It’s a far cry from 20 years ago when educational products for preschool children failed in so many aspects to engage the child.