Toys Should Be FUN!

Spring and Summer birthdays are coming fast, which means that parents will soon be asking pediatric therapists, “What toys are best for my child?”

Before discussing the value of play, relationships, and quality toys, we should first discuss what toys represent. We must be clear that no toy, game, or activity can make children smarter or solve developmental problems. Toys are tools that can be helpful to facilitate development.

The purpose of a toy is to stimulate imagination, exploration, critical thinking, but most of all, they should be FUN!  Children do not need a great number of toys and, in fact, are often overwhelmed by too many toys.

I often advise parents of young children to keep it simple. I recommend sticking to the 5 Bs:

  • Balls: all shapes, sizes, types. I love any toys that features a ball going in one place and out another. Recommended toys include marble runs, gumball machines, tactile balls, auditory balls, sports.   

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  • Babies: pretend play props, including dolls, stuffed animals, action figures, Little People, cars, kitchens, play food, etc.
  • Boxes: we all know the kids love boxes. Playing with boxes stimulates early math concepts, creativity, imagination, and critical thinking. Let them play with boxes, you’ll be amazed at what they create.

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  • Books: Read a book a day, preferably more.  Encourage older children to practice reading by reading to younger children. Avoid any book that has batteries; the children will only push the buttons and will not gain literacy.
  • Blocks: big, little, legos, duplos, hard, magnetic, soft. Block play facilitates critical thinking, math, imagination, creativity, and so much more.

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The 5 Bs are a good starting point, but there are many good toys and activities that children of all ages will enjoy. Play-doh, paint, and tactile activities are wonderful opportunities for play, as are gross motor toys, such as bicycles, ride-on toys, tunnels, and swings.

For many years I recommended that parents avoid the sixth B: batteries. I felt that time spent with electronic toys limited imagination and that screen time was passive learning.

I was wrong.

I have recently been rethinking my approach to technology in play after recognizing that some children use technology as a protective barrier that makes them feel safe enough to interact with others. I now realize that tech toys can be useful learning tools and can be used to facilitate interaction. The key is to be sure to use them together in an interactive way.

While some electronic toys are expensive wastes of money, there are some that are wonderful means of learning. There are many electronic toys that claim to teach letters, numbers, colors, and shapes that children just push buttons and quickly lose interest (I’m looking at you, Vtech). But there are some unique robotics toys that encourage higher order thinking, mapping, and even coding. Early childhood educators are taught that young children are process-oriented, rather than product-oriented, yet many early childhood projects are geared toward the product. Children learn from the process, not the product. New technology toys and products promote technology as a whole body experience and the projects are tangible. Projects have more meaning to children when they design them themselves. Be aware, however, some of these cool new gadgets are pricey.

Before providing a list of recommended toys, I remind you that relationships are the cornerstone of all learning.

“No matter how helpful computers are as tools (and of course they can be very helpful tools), they don’t begin to compare in significance to the teacher-child relationship, which is human and mutual. A computer can help you learn to spell H.U.G., but it can never know the risk or the joy of actually giving or receiving one.”–Fred Rogers, 1994

Recommended toys that fit into the 5B’s mentioned above that have found their way into my sessions or cart in the past year or so:  

For Younger Children

Bubbles
  • Great for requesting, visual tracking, motor skills, and oral motor practice
Brio trains and tracks
  • Representational play, social skills, early concepts, critical thinking

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Felt board activities
  • Language, literacy, creativity, fine motor

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Gearations
  • Concept development, reasoning, sequencing, social skills, fine motor
Tent
  • Motor development, early concepts, imagination, language, sequencing
Swing
  • Sensory regulation, language, social skills, motor skills
Tunnels
  • Motor skills, social skills, sensory processing, can be used for obstacle course

All Ages

Board games
  • Sequencing, social skills, learning to play by rules, academic concepts, reasoning, communication
Bikes (ride-on toys, tricycles, bicycles)
  • Motor development, social skills
Legos. All the legos.
  • Fine motor skills, representational play, language development, mathematics, academics, creativity, social skills, critical thinking, reasoning, physics

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Puzzles
  • Just one or two peg puzzles. Don’t spend a great deal because they will lose pieces and will lose interest once they’ve mastered them. Jigsaw puzzles will last longer.
Action figures
  • Imagination, creativity, language development, social skills
Matchbox cars and those awesome tracks
  • Representational play, social skills, early concepts, critical thinking, physics
Pokemon cards
  • Social skills, creativity, critical thinking, reasoning
Magnet blocks
  • Critical thinking, creativity, concept development, fine motor
Puppets
  • Imagination, language, literacy, creativity
Tangrams
  • Concept development, mathematics, reasoning, fine motor

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Slime
  • Tactile exploration, reasoning, creativity, imagination, communication
Kinetic sand
  • Tactile exploration, reasoning, creativity, imagination, communication
Play-Doh
  • Tactile exploration, reasoning, creativity, imagination, communication
Musical instruments
  • Auditory processing, creativity, language, mathematics
Dress up clothes
  • Imagination, creativity, language, social skills, fine motor

Technology

Snap circuits
  • Critical thinking,  reasoning, electricity

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Meccano MAX robot
  • Critical thinking, coding, reasoning, social skills
Minecraft
  • Critical thinking, coding, reasoning, social skills
Kano pixel kit
  • Critical thinking, reasoning, social skills
Hexbugs
  • Critical thinking, reasoning, social skills, creativity
Wonder Workshop Dash Robots
  • Some are designed for preschoolers
  • Coding, reasoning, social skills

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Tomo Robot Kit
  • Construction, fine motor, critical thinking, problem solving

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Kamigami Lima Robot Kit
  • Coding, fine motor, critical thinking

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Cubetto
  • Wooden coding toy for preschoolers. No screen involved.

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Robot Turtles

  • Preschool programming toy

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Think and Learn Code a Pillar

  • A preschool programming toy

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Check out our Facebook page to see more tips and tricks and back to the blog in the near future!

Programming, Programming, Everywhere

We hope you’ve been enjoying all of the updates to our website and social media over the past few months. Now it’s time to let you know what’s going on in the clinics over the next few months. Please check back to our Events page regularly for new offerings and times for the great updates below. Need more Milestone? Check out the previous blogs we’ve posted for more great news and information!

We have several new programs that we will be getting up and running this year! The first program will be a Rock Climbing and Fitness Fun Night. A Milestone physical therapist will be leading a class that will incorporate different exercises along with climbing our rock wall to improve strength, coordination, and motor planning. The sessions will be divided up by ability level to ensure the most success for the kiddos. More information in the near future!

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Pediatric Yoga will also be starting this year! Occupational therapists will lead this class to help improve strength, balance, coordination, and flexibility. As these skills improve, so can a child’s concentration, confidence, and self-esteem, ultimately benefiting a child in multiple aspects of their daily life.

We are also very excited to be offering a family Baby Signing Time class. This class will follow the curriculum of Baby Signing Time. Brittany Dunn, our lead speech language pathologist, is a certified Baby Signing Time instructor. This class is targeted toward families and children under the age of 3 to assist in developing early American Sign Language vocabulary. Brittany will also be hosting a training for Milestone employees to learn and use simple ASL signs that can be used during therapy sessions, better improving our ability to server our kiddos. Class will target basic vocabulary as well as learning signs for different children’s songs.

Please keep an eye out on our website, Facebook page, or in the clinic for more solid details as they become available! Feel free to email the Program Coordinator, Kaitlyn O’Brien, with any questions regarding our exciting new programs!

How to Get Out of the House Without the Headaches

Getting out of the house with young children can certainly feel overwhelming. When you think of planning a day trip with your kids, what comes to mind? Whining, impatience, urgency, and stress? Whether a simple trip to the grocery store or an all-day outing to a museum, some planning ahead and simple strategies can turn a stressful trip into a fun outing. Here are some strategies that I’ve learned along the way:

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