Give the Gift of Fun and Learning
By Dr. Kristi Smith, D.Ed., M.Ed.   •   December 5, 2022

December is a wonderful time for many cultural celebrations. Families get together. Mounds of food are cooked and enjoyed. Beautiful lights and decorations go up. Candles are lit. While all of these things make the holiday season magical, there is one thing that kids especially love about holidays such as Hanukkah and Christmas- gifts. Christmas morning, for example, is a magical day when children wake up to presents left by Santa. While every parent wants their child to enjoy the gifts they receive and have fun with them, it is possible for gifts to serve two purposes- fun and learning.

            Research shows that children, including preschoolers, were affected by a learning gap on the back end of Covid. Families did the best they could, but the entire world was forced into a new era of trying to survive work and school with everyone at home. Schools and teachers got creative and did their best to provide developmentally appropriate lessons for home. Parents did their best to help support their children in those lessons while still just trying to survive. Research and standardized testing are showing the true impact of Covid on developmental and cognitive development

            Because the holidays are a time when children will normally get an influx of new objects and toys to play with, it is also the perfect time to be intentional about the types of toys that they receive. More, now than ever, is a good time to give children gifts that are not only entertaining but also educational to help their skill development at the same time! When purchasing toys for children under three years of age, remember to watch for choking hazards.  Use a commercial “choke tube tester” if possible. Another option is using a toilet paper tube.  If the toy (or piece) fits into the tube, do not give it to a child under 3 years of age.

It can be difficult to know what types of toys to buy for different ages of children.  To help you select age-appropriate toys that support skill development for different ages, here is a list for each age group:

Babies: Children at this age are beginning to learn to control to discover their own bodies, learn about the world around them, and learn about the people who take care of them. The goal of toys for this age is to stimulate their senses giving them a wide variety of shapes, colors, and textures.  An older baby can begin to grasp objects and learn about them by placing them in their mouth.

  • Toy types ideal for this age: Rattles, mobiles, plush animals, soft books, activity gyms, mirrors, stacking toys, simple wooden puzzles, musical toys, balls, and teething toys

Toddlers: Children at this age are learning to gain control of their body and motor skills as well as develop their self-help skills. They begin to express themselves by scribbling when given art supplies. Filling and dumping containers are favorite toddler activities.  They move often within a space at a quick pace to investigate and explore everything.

  • Toy types ideal for this age: water-based markers and paper, wood blocks, sorter toys (shape, color), toy vehicles including large dump trucks, pails, musical instruments, push toys, books, scooter toys, puzzles with knobs, dress-up items, large plastic animals and dinosaurs, dolls, and home pretend toys

Preschoolers: Children at this age now have an overall handle on their large (muscle) motor skills but continue to improve on their fine motor skills. They learn through hands-on play using items that have many smaller parts. It is during the preschool years that children begin to play interactively with other children in more social interactions.

  • Toy types ideal for this age: puzzles with more pieces and beginning jigsaw puzzles, Legos or other block-type toys, smaller toy cars/trucks, art supplies that provide a lot of materials to choose from, science experiments for preschoolers, playdough, simple story books, simple games such as memory or matching games, dress-up items, pretend play sets, sandbox with scoops and measuring cups, bikes with helmets
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