A good toy should stimulate all the senses so that every part of the brain gets wired. Sensory, fine and gross motor skills, problem solving, language development, social and emotional skills and creativity are all developmental goals that can be reached through the right toys. [If your child has a weakness in any of these areas, your OT, PT, speech pathologist or an online search can help you to select toys that will help.] A good toy should also encourage the natural process of
It is helpful to know your child's learning style. Does he learn through what he hears (auditory learner)? Through touch and movement (kinesthetic learner)? Or through his eyes (visual learner)? When you identify that, you can match your child's toys to his particular style, or complement his style by choosing toys that help develop his areas of weakness.
Stage by Stage
Infants learn through their senses. Sight, sound, scent, color, taste and texture are all new stimuli in a brand new world. Talk, sing and cuddle with your baby as you share each new experience. Since it's never too early to read to your baby, you can start bonding by snuggling your baby in your lap and looking at a fabric book or board book together. Say the words that go with the picture you see. Use inflections in your voice to make each picture come alive for him. This will create precious moments for both of you and starts him on the path to becoming a lifelong reader.
Starting at about age one, you may introduce letters, numbers, and basic skills such as matching and stacking. Toppling and stacking, dump and fill, learning size relationships of big or small, color sorting are all activities that your child is ready for at the toddler stage. Object permanence is also learned around this time through games like peek-a-boo or a jack-in-the-box. That teaches toddlers that although mommy may leave to go out shopping, she's not gone forever, and she will come back!
Some toddlers are frustrated by not yet being verbal. You may recall the young child actor who played opposite Grandpa Robert DeNiro in "Meet the Fockers." He had learned "Baby Signs," sign language for babies to use. There are products on the market today to teach your young child the way to communicate that he is thirsty even before he speaks.
Toys that encourage and provide exploration/experimentation build a strong foundation for thinking, learning and problem-solving. Building blocks, shape-sorters, beginning puzzles are all good choices for enhancing early math confidence.
Typically, children will begin speaking at around age two. Engage your child in conversation as they begin to explore new concepts and develop logical thinking skills. Introduce animals, letter sounds, and feelings at this age. Visual discrimination and pattern recognition developed through puzzles and sorting games will lead to pre-reading.
By preschool, your child will be creating and building with construction toys and other manipulatives to enhance their math skills. Imaginary or pretend play with puppets and costumes is starting at this time. Storytelling and social skills go hand-in-hand. Playing games that involve taking turns also enable social skills to form.
Examples of toys for various learning styles
Squeaky ball (Tangiball)
Music CD's (Sounds Like Fun)
Rattles (Elephant Fun, Rainfall Rattle)
Hammering toy (Hammer Away)
Shape Sorter (Sunshine Market)
Construction toys (Castle Marbleworks)
Puzzles (Alphabet Train)
Matching games (A B Seas)
Sorting games (Giant Pegboard)