The Truth About Toys Only A Teacher Can Tell You
By Lisa Bradburn
My name is Lisa and I am a Toy Hunter. Yes, I’ve built a career and a business out of hunting down gifts for kids. I wanted to find the sort of presents you’re proud to give children, whether you’re a parent, relative or family friend. I found it so frustrating I was determined to make it easier for us all.
But before I became a Toy Hunter I was a teacher. And there’s a teacher’s secret to toys that I want to share with you because… I know, it will make the toys in your life – and your child’s life – so much better!
The Truth About Toys
Toys are such a crucial part of a child’s development. They can help develop emotions, social skills, imagination or values; build motor skills, dexterity and curiosity; they reinforce lessons, strengthen bonds and nurture creativity.
We all want to buy the right gift for a child, we hope that it will play one of these crucial roles and we want to find it easily and affordably. But how do you take a great toy and make sure it is and does all these things? These are my top tips on taking great toys and making them even better. Because the truth about toys is…
they’re only as good as the lessons they teach.
How to Make Great Toys Even Better
Back in my classroom days, toys, games and puzzles were (and still are) used widely in the classroom, especially with younger children, to allow them to learn, experiment and achieve. By planning and setting up an appropriate activity with a set of toys you can teach life lessons.
Let’s take the sandpit for example. Leave the kids with a random range of toys and you aren’t really teaching them much. Leave specific, connected or themed toys and you can direct the play towards development.
Buckets, spades and moulds can teach the different properties of dry sand and, by adding water, also the properties of wet sand. With this lesson in mind, that bucket and spade set you bought last summer becomes more than beach-side entertainment. It’s your child’s first science lesson. A lesson or goal when used in tandem with a toy increases its value tenfold.
When to intervene
Interacting and intervening with children at the right times is key to play being a worthwhile and educational activity. You’ll have heard the adage ‘presence not presents’. Well, it really does help take a toy to another level!
But there’s a contradiction here because too much adult intervention can prevent the child from getting ‘locked in’ to play. By that, I mean the magic moment when a child’s imagination takes hold and they’re in a world of their own.
This is very important. It’s at these times when children are able to establish their own values, decide on the intent of the play and improve their performance.
So, when do you intervene to make that toy ‘great’ and when do you leave kids alone?
Again, this goes back to the lesson you’re intending to teach.
If the focus of the day is imaginative play, then leave a child to play with a dinosaur and watch them set the world alight! (‘Quality not quantity’ at these times is never more true).
If you want to develop dexterity, take a ball and interact by playing a game of catch. One of my best selling toys is a ‘popper’ game that fires soft balls around the place. It’s great for developing aim and agility (it’s best to duck!) without the kids even knowing!
The list goes on: if you want to teach emotions get the crayons out and draw facial expressions, leading the child with requests for a happy face, an angry face and so on.
Toys are essential ingredients to child development and capable of far more than mere entertainment, but key to this is a clear goal and timely, appropriate interaction.
I’d love to hear how you’ve turned toys into lessons, and what you do to make them great.
Lisa Bradburn is the managing director of what2buy4kids – a place to find quality, unusual gifts for kids. Lisa built her business out of first-hand frustration at the lack of interesting and available gift ideas for children. Now, she hunts them down so you don’t have to and provides endless entertainment inspiration for children of all ages.