McDonough- Following a few simple guidelines, parents can find toys that are both fun and educational to give to their children this holiday season, according to Margaret McCall, an education instructor at the Regional Academic Center of Mercer University in Henry County.
"Those of us who are parents and grandparents have probably all had that experience of picking out what we thought was the greatest toy, and then our child ends up playing with the box or the wrapping paper," McCall said. "If we look for toys that appeal to children's senses and that will hold their attention, we can keep this from happening."
Below are a few tips for finding toys children will both learn from and enjoy.
- Look for "open-ended" toys that children can use in a variety of ways. For example, rather than purchasing a toy in which the child pulls a string and then hears an animal sound, buy plastic farm animals that children can manipulate on their own.
- Look for toys that encourage creativity, like blocks and art supplies.
- Seek out board games with simple, easy-to-follow rules. (If the rules are complicated, children will either stop playing the game or make up their own rules.)
- When buying computer games, look for games parents can play with their children. (Parent-child interaction is crucial during early childhood in the development of oral language and listening skills--skills children must have before learning to read.)
- Look for durable toys that can withstand time.
- Avoid toys with small parts or with parts that could easily break off when looking for toys for preschool-aged children.
- Pay attention to the age guidelines on toy packages. They're usually accurate.
McCall said parents shouldn't forget some of the classic toys, like Tinkertoys and LEGO's. "Blocks never go out of style because they can be anything the children want them to be," McCall, who taught pre-school and special education for 30 years prior to joining Mercer's Tift College of Education.
And children always enjoy board games like "Candy Land" and "Chutes and Ladders," she said. These games help children develop color recognition, counting and matching skills. Board games also help children develop important social skills, like turn taking, she added.
"Think back to when you were a child and recall what games you enjoyed," McCall said. "Newer isn't always better."
Toy telephones, baby dolls and dress-up clothes are sure to be a hit, and they're educational. Toy telephones encourage children to develop their language skills. Dolls and dress-up clothes let them explore different roles and help them develop problem-solving skills.
McCall also encourages parents to buy books for their children. She said when purchasing books for children ages six to eight, parents should go ahead and buy books in areas of interest to the child that might be beyond his or her reading capability. The parents can then read these books to their children.
"Even when the children are as old as eight, I tell parents to read to them. Children's comprehension level is often at a higher level than their reading level. When parents read to their children, the children build their vocabulary and develop better listening skills," she said.
McCall said she thinks the most important things to remember when purchasing gifts for children are to look for gifts that encourage creativity and activity.
"It's easy to get lost in the sea of colors of a toy store. But if you remember those two things, you'll find a toy the child will enjoy," she said.