“To a child, often the box a toy came in is more appealing than the toy itself.” ~ Allen Klein
November presented a lot of challenges for me. My blog was hacked and it took time (and the kindness of computer savvy friends) to fix that problem. Then I finally got around to reviewing a book on creative thinking that I really enjoyed, and wanted to recommend, only to discover that it has been pulled from the shelves because of plagiarized
content. This is unfortunate, because the book was so interesting, and full of rich information on how the mind works and the kind of experiences that can set the stage for creative inspiration – something I need as I develop each new blog post, and something I desperately needed now. What could I write with a month lost and a book review that is no longer possible?
Then, with the holiday season upon us, I noticed that a friend posted a question on Facebook about appropriate toys to purchase for different age groups. Remembering some work I did for a children’s charity, which involved evaluating and recommending toys, I shared some websites with her that had been useful to me. This gave me an idea! Why not write about toys and how they can promote creative thinking? While I am not an expert on the topic, I have spent considerable amounts of time leafing through toy catalogues, wandering in toy stores and playing with various toys - connecting new information about them to what I have learned from years of watching children play. So, here are some preliminary thoughts on toys, and how to select play materials that engage
children’s interest and support their creativity.
First here is some basic, but essential information on toy selection. Begin with an understanding of children’s capabilities and interests, so that they can use toys successfully and explore the possibilities of toys in ways that are meaningful to them. I found a user- friendly chart summarizing developmental milestones in the early years (http://www.acetonline.org/child_dev_milestone.pdf). This may be helpful in a quest for
appropriate play materials and toys. It is also worthwhile to explore the different kinds of toys that are available. The Canadian Toy Association provides a comprehensive list of the
classifications of toys (http://www.cdntoyassn.com/viewpage.cfm?PageID=43). This includes fifteen basic product categories, ranging from balls to electronic toys and games, and is a great source of ideas. You will also find here additional information about age appropriateness, toy safety and toy testing. When making purchases, please be aware of safety issues related to toys. More can be found on this topic at the following websites: http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/cps-spc/pubs/indust/toys-jouets/index-eng.php and http://toy-testing.org/safety-recalls/.
The next important consideration is the value that a toy brings to your child’s play, learning and creativity. When preparing to make a purchase, consider whether a toy is open-ended (it provides several opportunities for different kinds of play) or closed (it can only be used one way). Examples of open-ended toys include blocks and construction toys, art materials, play dough, dramatic play clothes and props, dolls and puppets. Open-ended toys have numerous benefits:
- they allow children to freely and spontaneously engage in play and use their imaginations
- they promote symbolic thinking which contributes to their creativity
- there is no pressure to create a specific finished product, because the toy allows for different outcomes
- there isn’t one right answer, which enables children to reason and explore many possibilities
- playing with them is less stressful because a child can learn through trial and error at their own pace
- children focus less on achievement and more on the satisfaction that comes with making their own discoveries, arriving at their own conclusions and creating something unique
So, when choosing toys, think about what you would like your child to get from the experience of playing with them. Consider whether the toys can be used in many ways, for many purposes. Ask if it’s a toy that your child could use in different ways as they grow. Will the toy help your child to gain more skills and see new possibilities for playing with it? Is this a toy that will contribute to your child’s happiness and creativity as well as being educational? Toys can be costly, and there is a wide variety from which to choose, which can make these decisions challenging and sometimes even overwhelming. But viewed as an investment in your child’s healthy development and enjoyment, carefully selected play materials can be worth every penny. So take some time to choose toys well. Until the next blog post about toys, I hope this provides a starting point for exploring the contribution of toys to creative thinking.