Educational toys not only promote developmental skills in children. They also help children acquire and improve essential life skills. Creativity, self-confidence, independence, responsibility, and integrity can all be cultivated through the use of carefully selected educational toys.
One hallmark of educational toys is how well they support creative, open-ended play. A tray of wooden food can inspire a child to spend a whole afternoon running a pretend restaurant or planting and harvesting crops on a pretend farm. A set of blocks can be turned into a tower, a road system, a fort, a car, or even different animals. And the possibilities for a pound of modeling clay are endless! The more time a child spends exploring all the different things a toy can become, the more developed the child's powers of imagination will be. This fosters an open-mindedness to new possibilities that will help the child think of creative and innovative solutions to any challenges he or she ends up facing as an adult.
One way to build self-confidence is through play that encourages a child to assert him or herself. Singing, performing, and acting in front of an audience all help children assert themselves both in the planning stage and during an actual performance. Children also learn to assert themselves by acting out scenarios or performing informally with peers. Open-ended toys such as musical instruments and dress-up clothes and props encourage this type of play.
Taking risks that pay off will also develop a child's self-confidence. Susan G. Solomon, author of American Playgrounds: Revitalizing Community Space, notes that "Children need a chance to take acceptable risks, learn cause and effect, make choices and see consequences. If they don't learn to take risks, we'll lose a generation of entrepreneurs and scientists."
To take such risks, children must develop powers of risk assessment and decision making so that they can be sure that the risks they plan to take are, in fact, acceptable. The act of riding and controlling large toys such as bicycles requires children to calculate physical risks. The logic needed to play certain strategy-based board games like Monopoly, chess, and checkers involves risk assessment such as whether or not to invest in a property or risk one piece for a future, greater gain.
To improve their ability to calculate risk, children should also develop their decision-making skills. Science and engineering kits can help by requiring children to use observations and directions to make decisions about how to run an experiment or build a working machine. Puzzles and building construction sets can also hone this skill.
In general, allowing children to direct their own play and be in charge of what to do during their free time helps them become more self-sufficient and resilient. In particular, certain educational toys foster skills such as problem solving, taking charge of a situation, and leadership.
One aspect of being independent is being able to solve a problem on your own. Working with a construction toy system allows a child to explore different solutions to the challenge of building various items. Logical challenges faced on your own, such as figuring out how to use a set of pattern blocks to replicate certain complicated patterns, also build problem-solving skills.
Another aspect of being independent is taking charge of a situation. This can be as simple as providing your baby with two toy choices and allowing the baby the autonomy to make his or her own decision about which to play with. Beyond that, you can also encourage the development of independence by allowing your child to direct what roles you will take on when playing with your child or letting your child be in charge of how a toy will be played with. Providing your child with open-ended play sets such as farms, fire and police stations, pirate ships, tree houses, and train stations creates a situation where your child can control what scenarios he or she will act out that day.
A third aspect of being independent is taking a leadership role. While unit blocks and communal building sets of oversized hollow wood blocks, huge foam blocks, or sturdy cardboard blocks can foster cooperation skills, they can also offer opportunities for one child to lead others in a positive way to build a specific construction that that child has in mind. Educational toys can also help children become self-motivated and self-directed so that they can lead themselves to accomplishments without always relying on outside support and affirmation.
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