Looking for the perfect gift for that special child in your life? What IS the perfect gift? If you ask the therapists at Leaps and Bounds, we will tell you that the gift should be a toy or game that will encourage the use of the senses, promote motor skill development, and facilitate language skills. While that may not sound like fun, that is what makes it a perfect gift. It provides opportunities for learning and development, while a child will simply see the toy as fun, unadulterated play. So, what is this toy you ask? Well, it may be any one of many toys or games sitting on the shelves of your local store.
The tendency today is to buy electronic toys. Everything is focused on technological advancement. Even for the smallest of babies, toys light up, make noise, speak different languages, you name it. While these toys have their benefits, they offer limited interactive sensory experiences. The more a child can engage his senses, the more learning and development will occur. When a child is able to hold and feel an object, use his proprioceptive sense to get feedback about force and direction, or use his eyes when looking at a three-dimensional object, then his brain is making sense of his body and the world around him. This helps a child to better develop fine motor and gross motor skills, social skills, language skills, attention, and self-regulation.
A popular electronic game such as Angry Birds may hold a child’s attention, but it offers limited sensory experiences. While a child must learn to change his force as he drags his finger back to launch the bird, it does not offer much more for tactile and proprioceptive feedback. The visual input from the screen is only two-dimensional, which limits visual development.
On the other hand, let’s talk about good old-fashioned toys, such as building blocks or Legos®. What can a child do with these? He can build a fort, a cave, a castle, a garage, a house, a fire station, do I need to go on?? The options are endless. What does it take to build a structure? It requires the creation of an idea, the motor plan to build it, and the strength, control and visual motor coordination to place the blocks where they are intended. Vision, touch, and proprioception help the body to stack and create. The child gets feedback about how much force to use to place the blocks so they do not fall over, as well as how to control his arm and hand to place the block. The child can develop language skills by learning and understanding spatial concepts such as stacking “on, behind, up, etc.” If a child builds a structure with a peer, he must learn cooperative play, turn-taking, negotiating, compromising, and other social skills. The development of skills with such a simple activity can be limitless.
A nice alternative to modern technology with the benefits of a traditional toy is the Angry Birds Board Game. This game requires that the child build with blocks and then use a three-dimensional sling to launch birds to knock down the tower. This game will provide him with skill-building sensory experiences (and lots of fun!).
You know what my 6 month old loves to play with more than anything? Paper. She can entertain herself for 20 minutes by just ripping and scrunching and dropping and banging paper. What does she learn? She learns how it feels and sounds when she uses it for different actions. Every now and then as it creeps up to her mouth, she learns how it tastes! She is developing fine motor strength and control as she scrunches it, drops it and picks it back up. She is learning how to use both of her hands together and how to coordinate her eyes with her hands. She is discovering cause and effect and the impact she can have on her environment. While we will not give her paper as a gift, we realize that the choice of toys for her can greatly impact her skill development. The more she can explore on her own, the more learning and growth that will occur. She can learn a lot more from playing with paper than from slapping a button that will make lights, music, and animal sounds (which usually happens all at once and is over-stimulating). How many times have you purchased an expensive gift, and a child spends more time playing with the box? Just think about all of the sensory experiences and the learning and development that can occur with that simple box and a child’s vivid imagination!
So, as you are searching for that perfect gift idea, consider how a toy can stimulate the senses, enhance motor development, and challenge thinking. Look no further than some of the great, traditional toys and games that can provide oodles of fun and tons of development opportunities.
Check out our next post for a list of toys and games that make great gifts.