The criteria for List #1: Toys/objects that do encourage exploration
Your goal is to keep the child active, so get a toy or object that can be played with in many ways. This encourages the child to get creative with the toy or object.
If you can’t quickly name many things a child could do with the toy or object, it’s doesn’t belong on this list. Consider the things I included in this list and what can be done with them:
Cotton handkerchief/ bandana– If the handkerchief (or bandana) is not cotton it is a choking hazard – Can be used to play peek-a-boo with a stuffed animal, hide-and-seek with objects, as a blanket for dolly, can sway with while dancing around, or blown into the air above the head.
Toy cars - Can be driven around in races, up ramps of blocks (older toddlers) or used to give an object a ride. Exploration happens as she tests how the speed varies on a flat surface (like one of the books) or on a ramp or on the blanket. I suggest cars of various shapes and colors for both girls and boys.
Blocks (or boxes) – A child can use imagination to build towers, houses, a road for the toy car, and many other things. They can be sorted, or a child can use a block in imaginary play with a stuffed animal: maybe it’s a desk, maybe it’s a chair.
Dolls – Can be snuggled, cared for, be spoken with (even if your child is pre-verbal), can interact with another doll, or can be a non-judgmental audience for the child.
Plastic Bowls/ Recyclables – Can be balanced on a foot, used to sort things, be part of pretend eating, be a hat, be used to feed a doll, or can be used for stacking.
List # 2: Toys that do NOT encourage exploration for ages 1-3
These toys perform the activity and leave your child with few options. Therefore, their attractiveness as playthings ends quickly. Consider what your child can do with these objects:
Jack-in-the-box -pop it a few times, sit on it and break it, and out of frustration out of lack of options, hit a sibling.
Toys that you push on and something appears -pop it up, also good for hitting a sister or brother.
Toys with prerecorded messages - (such as electronic dolls/figures)– play with it a few times, activating every sound, annoy the person working.
Spinning tops -spin it if you can, maybe enjoy the colors, but limited interest, become a potential problem with pointy ends finding eyeballs.
So, some final thoughts and reminders:
As I stated in the beginning, make sure the child(ren) is within eyesight, but remember that your role has shifted. You are no longer an entertainer of a noisy child, now you are an onlooker of a satisfied child who is exploring.
Busy, truly engaged children are not bothersome and don’t need to be entertained. Passive toys are better for this purpose, as they draw out children’s imagination and thus stay interesting longer. Toys with lots of bells and whistles will get a child’s attention at first, but then become tiresome.
And remember, more is not necessarily better. My first year teaching I had 10 toddlers, so I put out 10 pretend grocery carts. OY, hectic.
There are many more developmentally beneficial objects/toys you can find, but I’ve written too much, and the blog police might get me. If the toilet paper police don’t get me first!
I plan to continue blogging more about this topic ASAP. I will do also do older age groups. Let me hear your questions and concerns.
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