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K-5th Grade
5th-7th Grade
Dear Marianne:

We have tons of toys in our house. How can I organize them so my kids get the most play value from them?

Erin, Pittsburgh, Mom of Katie (9), Lizzie (8) Mary (6) Ben and Jacob (4)
The best way to get the most play value is to organize them so that they ARE played with. For example, board games are fun but you really need to have them in sight as a reminder to play oftern. Stack boxes by age groups on a shelf in a room that will encourage social play. Consider the kitchen and family room. Keep them in the box and neatly tape all 4 corners on both the top and bottom of the box. This will help to reinforce the box after multiple uses.


What is play and does it affect a child's development?


Playing with a toy with a parent or adult helps babies interact with others and aids in language development. Babies like to play peek-a-boo with toys because they are just learning that the toys exist even when they are not seen or heard. Peer toy play by elementary school students helps them develop a mature sense of rules as well as right and wrong. Stuffed animals can help a toddler make the transition from infant dependency on mom and dad to more independent play common in early childhood. Preschoolers can communicate problems they are having though their play with toys, even when they can't communicate them directly. Preschool children need to see that they can cause interesting things to happen when they put their mind to it, and playing with toys helps them accomplish that. Toys also empower children by permitting them to control their environment, at least temporarily. Older kids need to see that they are playing correctly and succeeding. Board games give children a chance to practice turn taking, communication, and socialization skills. They are also great for the whole family to play together. By modifying the rules of the game, such as taking off time limits, enlarging pieces or having partners, toys and games can be made less frustrating for a child with a shorter attention span or motor difficulties. Children will become bored with toys that don't challenge and stimulate them. Conversely, children who try unsuccessfully to play with toys that are too challenging might grow frustrated, disinterested, and upset. Before choosing a toy, it is important to know the child's age, personality type, current skills, and interests.

A few simple measures can help you select safe and appropriate toys for your children. What is appropriate for one child can be dangerous for another. For example, older children should keep their playthings away from younger siblings and playmates that still put toys in their mouths.

Communication skills can be expanded through play.
For children with language delays, repetition is a plus. Look for books that have repetitive phrases or toys that continually repeat concepts and directions. Electronic toys feature lots of lights, sounds, and music and are usually a good choice for teaching cause and effect. It's always a good idea to take advantage of Try Me packaging to test quality and sound levels. Determine the best position for the child to be in to maximize the play and educational value of the toy or game. Toys can be played with in many ways, either seated at a table, wheelchair, or someone's lap, sitting or lying on the floor, or by using a particular piece of specialized equipment.

Don't be influenced by toy awards. Many of these seals of achievement and awards affixed to toy boxes are paid advertising. Their claims of having tested the toys sometimes mean that they collected children's opinions. Simulated toy tests sponsored by advertisers are gimmicks used to gain media attention. Before shopping for a toy, be sure to collect the following information: exact age, personality type, a list of interests and skills, any special challenges that can affect a child's physical limitations and play experience, and current interests.

Suggested types of toys by age:
Infants: Birth through 1 year: Toys should expose a baby to a variety of experiences: sight, sound, touch (shape, size, texture), and taste (because many times, toys go into the mouth). Bright colors, lightweight toys such as rattles, and squishy toys encourage early grasping, holding, and exploring. Once a child is able to sit up, introduce blocks, nesting cups, stacking rings, and toys that require reaching. For crawlers and early walkers, choose large balls and push-pull toys.
Toddlers: 1-3 years Physical play should be an important focus. For outdoor play, choose ride-ons, wagons, balls, and sandbox accessories. For indoor play, choose chunky blocks. Large-piece puzzles and toys that allow a child to use excess energy and develop emerging muscle control are also good. At this stage, children like to imitate parents with play food, kitchen sets, housekeeping tools, ride-on cars, sport ssets, baby strollers, and musical instruments.
Preschool: 3-5 years Children in this group are fascinated with how and why things work. Construction sets, washable crayons and markers, paints, modeling clay, books, and simple board games encourage creativity. Introduce toys that inspire pretend play and allow children to imitate mom or dad to practice life skills. Examples include cash registers, toy telephones, make-believe town sets, doll houses, and furniture.
School Age: 5-9 years Encourage children to share and introduce toys that teach both team playing and independence. Consider toys that boost self esteem and allow children to use their personality and skills. Choose hobby sets, sports toys, computer software, problem-solving math toys, construction sets with detailed elements, and storybooks with valuable messages. Games and electronic toys are available to help children learn specific skills including counting, matching, and problem solving.
Preteen: 9-12 years Acceptance from friends and self-esteem are very important to this age group. Toys also begin to seem less interesting to children of this age. Complex construction toys, board games, strategic puzzles, science toys, and activity kits are the best choices. Active and physical play should be an area of focus through team and group sports. Social and intellectual skills are refined through board, electronic, and card games.
Always supervise your child's play and play with your child often! Those memories will last a lifetime.

How To...

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