What Makes a “Good” Toy?
5 questions to consider when choosing a toy for your child
By Sarah Glickman, NBCOT Certified Occupational Therapist
In childhood, almost all learning occurs through play. In fact, as a pediatric occupational therapist, what I do with each child is play, as it is quite literally their occupation. A toy is a tool used during play, and the best toys are ones that foster healthy development. Below is a list of 5 questions to ask yourself when choosing a toy for your child to ensure they get the most out of this magical time.
Is the toy safe and ability-appropriate?
Age ranges recommended for each toy can be helpful as a guide, especially if a toy consists of small parts that create a choking hazard. However, it is also important to think about your child's interests and skills. Rather than age-appropriate, I prefer to think about if a toy is ability-appropriate. When working with clients, therapists present what we call the "just right" challenge. We choose toys that the child can find interesting without being too difficult. A toy that is too easy for your child will likely not engage their attention, and a toy that is too difficult will frustrate them. Finding that sweet spot can take some trial and error, making renting toys an ideal choice! Most importantly, choosing a toy that is ability-appropriate ensures that the toy is fun!
Can the toy be played with in more than one way?
Toys that can only do one thing over and over might work for a younger baby, but the best toys are open-ended and can be used in multiple ways and in various settings. For example, something as simple as a ball can be thrown, caught, rolled, kicked, spun, passed to a friend, etc. These toys promote thinking skills, socialization, and creativity.
Can the toy be played with in more than one position?
Babies and toddlers are learning every day about how their bodies move. Children need to play in various positions, including lying on their sides, lying on their bellies, sitting up, and standing. These positions help integrate a baby's reflexes, strengthen a child's muscles, and promote motor planning.
Does the toy encourage the use of both hands?
As children engage with toys, they learn how to use their hands together in an organized manner. Activities such as drawing, crafting, push toys, and books are all examples of great bilateral toys that improve a child's fine motor skills and coordination.
Does the toy promote social interaction?
The establishment of healthy social skills is just as vital to a child's development as physical and cognitive skills. Children who develop healthy social skills feel connected to their community, are better able to regulate their own emotions, and build a strong sense of self-worth. Toys such as dress-up costumes, toy kitchens, playhouses, and board games all teach cooperation, conflict resolution and encourage imagination.
Last but certainly not least, any toy that you and your child genuinely enjoy together will always be a great choice. The bond created with your child during an enjoyed activity will always reap the most significant benefits of all. Happy playing!
Sarah Glickman, MS OTR/L