As a loving parent or caregiver, it is common to feel inundated and a bit overwhelmed by your child’s frequent requests for the newest and flashiest toy that has just hit the shelves. It’s also ok to feel like toys are overtaking your household as your child collects more and more throughout the years. Creatively using toys while playing with your child supports their cognitive growth and can help to enhance their communication development in a multitude of ways.
That noisy, light-up toy that may make your head spin might also be working to meet your child’s sensory needs and enhance the development of their communication skills if it ignites their interest and sparks a genuine connection or leads to a meaningful conversation.
Alternatively, an old set of wooden blocks that you may think wouldn’t stand a chance against your child's iPad may just lead to hours of fun when used to create a secret cave for Batman in the backyard where no one can find him because the structure that you all built together blends in with the trees outside. The list below includes some of the many reasons why toy time is so beneficial for childhood development!
The Benefits of toy time
1. Promotes Social Connection Between a Child and Caregiver
Taking time to play with your child sends the message that you are invested in their interests. During play, you will likely get to learn about your child's favorite characters from books or television. Leaving space for your child to share their interests is affirming and communicates the message that you value their ideas. It’s not so much the new toy that’s all the rage, but rather the quality time spent talking and bonding with beloved family members.
2. Activates the Imagination
Play enables your child to engage their imagination in the most wonderful ways. They can transport themselves to any time or place and develop rich play schemes and narratives that may mirror activities in their everyday lives or enable them to assume new roles and explore novel ideas. The next time you're wishing that you could take your little one on a week-long vacation to the beach, remember that it may be just as much fun for them to hop in the bathtub with their favorite dolls and action figures and dream up their own unique ocean adventure.
3. Enable your Child to Practice and Develop Competency with Real Life Skills
Having your child dress up their favorite baby doll may actually support them with fastening clothing snaps, putting together strips of velcro, and using zippers while dressing themselves. Cutting pretend fruit and playing in the imaginary kitchen can help them learn routine tasks and skills that are necessary for preparing meals within your household. Toys that enable your child to practice activities of daily living can increase self-esteem and autonomy by allowing your child to practice demonstrating these real-world skills.
Children can learn the meanings of a variety of new nouns, verbs, adjectives, etc. during play. The next time your child pulls out their Captain America action figurine, you can use it as an opportunity to teach the meanings of new words such as shield, protection, opponent, hero, or even protagonist depending on your child's age. Also, a puzzle featuring animals from the rainforest can be used to teach the names and characteristics of many unfamiliar animals that your child may not even know exist.
5. Increase Communication Development
Whether you are focused on encouraging your child to request their favorite toy, comment on the actions that they and others are engaging in during play, or protest and communicate when they are “all done” with a specific toy or activity, playtime is one of the best times to focus on these skills. You can also ask your child “wh” questions while they are engaged in play, but remember to follow your child’s lead and keep communication naturalistic so it feels more like a genuine exchange rather than an inquisition. Pragmatic skills such as social smiles, eye contact, and common words used during social routines can also be reinforced during playtime. Remember to wave goodbye to your child’s favorite baby doll or action hero before they go back on the shelf and you all transition to another activity.
6. Develop Early Learning Skills
Building a skyscraper with blocks of various shapes and sizes can support your child with learning the names of common shapes just as much as color sorting activities can increase your child’s ability to identify colors. Assembling Ms. & Mr. Potato Head can help your child learn to identify different body parts. Alphabet puzzles can increase your child’s ability to identify letters. So many early learning skills can be taught and reinforced effectively through play. Ditch the flashcards (unless your child loves them, then follow their lead) and create spaces for your child to demonstrate their learning in action.
Toy time is an amazing time to promote loving connections and to learn and build new skills. If it feels like your child’s playroom is bursting at the seams, view it as a wonderland where new ideas can blossom. On the other hand, if you feel like your play space is looking a little sparse or needs an upgrade, view it as a new frontier where you and your child's creativity can be activated and reengaged. Repurpose well loved toys and find new contexts in which to utilize them. You can even involve your child in reorganizing the space to fit your family’s needs. Conquer toy time by making it your own. Have fun and enjoy the adventure. View this as a time to learn, grow, and create alongside your child and build something beautiful together!
Written by Leah Kimble, MA, CCC-SLP
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