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10 Toys that Support Learning Through Play

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When we think about learning, our minds probably conjure images of books or classrooms. That is often the case. But for young children, learning is done through play.

As adults, we use our minds to make sense of the world and our lives – but children need concrete experiences. Until around age six, children learn, make sense of their world and find meaning in their lives by connecting it to something they already know: play.

Through play, your child will reach major developmental milestones right before your eyes. Fine motor skills will be strengthened through drawing, coordination by stacking, even math through counting and grouping. And toys can be the tools they use to get there.

“When selecting toys and materials for your child, look for items that can be used in a variety of ways depending on the child, the day, their imagination, and their developmental level,” Rachel Duda, Vivvi’s VP of learning, explains of play-based learning. “Open-ended toys and materials should foster play, creativity, and imagination.”

Open-ended toys are toys that encourage your child to use their imagination. A toy car can only really be a toy car, but a set of blocks can be a tower, a castle or a barn.

And some of the best toys, says Duda, are things you have in your home right now.

“Pots and pans and wooden spoons turn into musical instruments; plastic Tupperware containers turn into homes for small animals or into stacking or nesting cups,” she explains. “Scarves become a game of peek a boo, a swaddle for a doll baby or even a bandage for an injured leg at the doctor’s office.”

Here are 10 Vivvi-recommended toys to support learning through play at home.

1. Tempera Paint Sticks

Age: One year and older

Supports: Fine motor, art/creativity, math

  • Tempera paint sticks are amazing tools for all ages. They take the mess out of painting and have bright, bold and vivid colors, which are appealing to children.
  • Let your child use them to decorate paper, rocks, shells – even windows.

2. Magnetic Tiles

Age: One year and older

Supports: Math, creativity, problem solving, team building

  • Younger children can build flat creations, while older children will work to build, balance and engineer. Used alone or with the addition of small animals and manipulatives, children will have fun hiding objects within their structures.
  • Older children will engage in problem solving and develop their mathematical skills as they count how many tiles are in their structure or what shape you get when you put 2 triangle pieces together.

3. Wobble Board

Age: Six months and older

Supports: Coordination, core strength, imagination

  • A balance/wobble board is a great open-ended toy that can be used in so many ways from infancy through the school years.
  • Young babies can watch you roll a ball down the balance board, while older babies might use it to climb on. Toddlers and school aged children (and even the occasional parent) may use the balance board more actively to strengthen core muscles.

4. Jumbo Tweezers

Age: 18-months and older

Supports: Fine motor, math

  • These jumbo tweezers are perfect to help little hands develop those fine motor skills.
  • Use with small manipulatives like pom poms or rocks; your toddler will enjoy picking up, organizing, counting and sorting their items into cups and bowls.

5. Sensory Balls

Age: Six months and older

Supports: Hand-eye coordination

  • Sensory balls encourage babies to reach, bat, grab and use tactile senses. They’re learning to discover through touch and feel.
  • Used with plastic containers, babies and toddlers will have fun putting the balls in and dumping them out. When they roll away, the non-mobile infant will be encouraged to crawl and move to get it.

6. Wooden Blocks

Age: Six months and older

Supports: Hand-eye coordination, creativity, math, team building

  • Young babies can practice passing a block from one hand to the other or try holding a block in each hand and knocking them together. These motions may sound little and insignificant, but they’re key in developing your baby’s hand-eye coordination and dexterity!
  • Older children will enjoy building tall towers, castles or houses. Choosing a block set with a variety of shapes also allows you to introduce shape names to your child: square, round, triangle. Talking about shapes with your child as they play or counting how many blocks are in a tower makes this small-world play a learning experience!

7. Kinetic Sand

Age: Two years and older

Supports: Math, creativity

  • Set your child up with a tray of kinetic sand and small toys like plastic animals or spoons and measuring cups, then let your child explore. Switch out the materials for a new experience each time.
  • Bonus: leaves very little mess.

8. Silk Scarves

Age: Six months and older

Supports: Creativity, fine motor skills, color recognition

  • Babies and younger toddlers will love the simple act of touching these shiny, colorful scarves. You can also use the scarves to introduce color names to your child.
  • Older toddlers will use scarves as a cape for themselves, a blanket for their babydolls or to build a fort.

9. Dress Up Costumes

Age: Three years and older

Supports: Imaginative play, creativity, team building

  • Older toddlers love dressing up because it gives them the opportunity to try life from someone else’s perspective… even if they can’t quite articulate that yet.
  • As a firefighter, chef or police officer, your child will have different roles to fill in their imaginative play. They’ll also develop teamwork and social skills by integrating dress up with their friends.

10. Toy Cash Register

Age: Three years and older

Supports: Imaginative play, math, dexterity

  • Epic imagination comes out when young children pretend to do things they see grown-ups doing in their everyday life. Playing a cashier will help your child understand what’s happening (the exchange of money for goods) the next time you go to a store together.
  • Math skills will be strengthened through counting and organizing, and your child’s dexterity will get a workout with the picking up of tiny coins.

Photography by Kara Brodgesell

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