Professor Shares How to Find Educational Toys
December 15, 2004

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Macon- 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 Dr. Margaret Morris, associate professor of education at Mercer's Tift College of Education.

Morris taught elementary school for more than two decades prior to coming to Mercer. Below are a few tips she provided to help parents purchase toys children that children will learn from and enjoy.

· Look for toys that teach useful information and reinforce concepts learned at school. (Fisher Price toys are often excellent for hand-eye coordination. LeapFrog toys like "LeapPad" interactive books aid preschool children with color, shape and animal recognition and reinforce concepts for children through elementary school.)

· Look for toys that encourage creativity, like blocks and art supplies.

· Avoid trendy toys advertised on television. (TV commercials often make toys appear grander than they are, and these toys later are left to collect dust.)
 
· Gauge a child's interest in the toy before shopping. Talk to the child about why he is requesting a toy.

· Look for toys that actively engage the child, like Lego's and trucks and backhoes for the sandbox. (Blocks help children learn shape and the law of gravity. Trucks, Lego's and backhoes help children hone their fine motor skills, which are needed when learning to write.)

· 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.)

· Pay attention to the age guidelines on toy packages. Reputable companies put a lot of research into these recommendations. They're usually accurate.

· Look for board games for preschool children that reinforce basic concepts, like color recognition and counting skills. ("Candy Land" and "Chutes and Ladders" are good examples of this.)

· Look for board games for elementary-age children that help them hone spelling and strategic thinking skills. ("Parcheesi," "Monopoly," "Scrabble" and "Clue" are good examples of this.)

· Ask yourself, "After the novelty of the toy wears off, is it something that my child will continue to play with and engage?"

Morris said some toys never go out of style, like dolls and train sets. "Dolls seem to withstand the novelty factor more than most toys. Dolls received the previous year may be ignored for a newer, prettier doll initially, but, invariably, the comfort of the old doll friend draws the child's attention back to the familiar," Morris said.

Train sets can be tricky because of the many pieces, Morris said. This can be avoided by attaching the train tracks to plywood.

Dolls and train sets are also educational. They encourage children to role play. Train sets help children with their fine motor and critical thinking skills, as children have to assemble the set in order to play with it.

Morris said the best recommendation she can give parents is to use their common sense when evaluating the educational value and appropriateness of a toy for their children.

"After all, who knows the child better than their parents?" she said.
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