toys

  • Must-Have Montessori-Inspired Toys

    You’ve done the research and read the articles about Maria Montessori, and know the benefits of open-ended toys. As you visit the toy store, though, it’s still very overwhelming – what should you buy? These must-have Montessori-inspired toys are just what your tired old toy collection needs!

    The Best Montessori Toy for an Infant

    Infants find the Skwish Rattle highly engaging on many levels. A perfect example of a Montessori toy, this teether/rattle combination is made of wood, elastic string, and bells. The rattle comes both in a natural wood finish and also a colorful, non-toxic, water-based finish. The Skwish Rattle’s design makes it easy to grasp, and the wooden dowels and bells are fun for babies to manipulate.

    Another great toy is the even simpler-style Bell Rattle. This rattle’s simplicity and functionality make it a perfect Montessori toy. It fits perfectly into an infant’s tiny hands. Its light, compact design means that baby can make music all by himself!

    Are you shopping for an older infant? The Rattling Roller is perfect for the baby who’s becoming mobile. This roller’s colors, motion and sound will intrigue your baby to crawl in order to chase it all over the floor.

    Which Toys Do Toddlers Love?

    Toddlers have different play needs than infants. These toys will help them to learn more about the world every day. The Object Permanence Box is a sturdy, simple wooden box and ball that will keep a toddler busy!

    A child begins learning about object permanence between four and seven months of age, and it remains quite a point of curiosity. This toy allows repeated, endless investigation of where exactly that ball goes.

    When playing with this box, the child sharpens fine motor skills and eye-hand coordination while strengthening the understanding of object permanence.

    Another way to strengthen eye-hand coordination in children is through Play Silks. These soft, smooth, beautiful pieces of fabric catch the air beautifully and invite children to try and catch them.

    One hallmark of a Montessori toy is its versatility, and Play Silks are very versatile. Infants love the feel of these silks in their hands and their mouths, while toddlers enjoy taking them out of baskets and putting them back in. Preschoolers can use these silks as costume components and props for make-believe.

    Blocks Are For Everyone!

    Blocks are the universal toy that every playroom need. They’re sturdy, functional, and children of all ages can be successful with them. Here’s a twist on the standard wooden block: mirrors. Whaaa? Yep, you read it right: mirrors. Mirrored blocks go one step beyond standard blocks by further engaging the senses.

    You Can’t Go Wrong

    As long as you’re choosing durable, well-made toys that are open-ended, you really can’t go wrong. Keep in mind that a toy doesn’t need bells and whistles (electronic or otherwise) for it to be engaging and beneficial to a child.

    Interested in getting your little one to play independently?

    Check out my Purposeful Playspace e-course to learn how to create a space for your children that invites them to playin ways that are more engaging, purposeful and independent.

    Want more information about how play impacts your child’s development?

    Check out my e-book: Simply Play: Everything You Need To Know About The Most Important Part of Childhood

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  • Every Playroom Needs Toy Blocks

    Take a look around your playroom – what do you see? Balls, puzzles, dolls, electronics ……. toy blocks? I hope you have them, because toy blocks are a powerhouse when it comes to quality playtime for children! 

    Every playroom needs blocks.

    These flexible toys come in a variety of shapes, sizes and materials. Indeed, there is something for virtually every child out there to enjoy in the world of blocks.  

    The Value of Blocks

    What might seem like a simple, old, reliable toy might surprise you with its options and merit. Playing with blocks is time well-spent – that’s why every playroom needs blocks. Here are just some of the skills and abilities addressed by block play:

    Motor Skills

    Exploring and building with blocks encourages both fine and gross motor exercise. Imagine a toddler using his whole body, and all the balance he can muster, to stack blocks – it’s not an easy task for a little one! Now picture a seven-year old doing the same thing – the precision involved in manipulating the blocks into just the right position is impressive! This gross motor exercise aids in overall body strength, balance, and the ability to bend and lift.

    Fine motor skills really blossom when working with blocks. Children perfect the skill of bringing hands together and also hone the pincer grip, which is used in coloring, writing, painting, etc. Children will transfer this fine motor strength to life skills such as buttoning, zipping, and tying. 

    Eye-Hand Coordination

    When the brain imagines something, it is no small feat for the fingers and hands to make that vision into reality. By manipulating blocks, children are perfecting this process – getting the eyes to communicate with the brain and the brain to relay directions to the hands and fingers.

    The value of eye-hand coordination cannot be overestimated. Besides being essential for throwing and catching, eye-hand coordination is also instrumental in the visual tracking process involved in reading.

    Problem-Solving Skills

    Through block play, children have endless opportunities to solve problems. What do you do when your tower falls down? How can you carry several blocks at once? Which blocks should you use to build a bridge? These are just some examples of problems that might present themselves during a typical session of block play. Through trial and error, your child will build competence every day.

    Creativity

    Anytime a child uses an open-ended toy such as blocks, he is exercising creativity. The builder can create whatever his imagination dictates – a skyscraper, fortress, or castle. Architects-to-be will never tire of creating.

    In pretend play, a block can be a cell phone or a hot dog. There is no ‘right’ way to use blocks! A block wall can provide shelter from a thunderstorm or the big bad wolf. Playing blocks with a peer only increases creativity and imagination.

    Language Skills

    Another reason every playroom needs blocks is for the growth of language skills. Anytime a child is using his or her imagination, language is a natural connection. Offering questions and concepts can enhance the play experience.

    Playing alongside your child? Block play is the perfect time for narrating your child’s actions and exposing him to language. Be sure to use positional words like ‘over’, ‘under’, ‘through’, ‘on top’, etc., to encourage spatial awareness, too.

    Types of Toy Blocks

    Every playroom needs blocks – but which kind? Toy manufacturers have responded to consumer demands by creating blocks of seemingly every type. Whether made of wood, plastic, foam or cardboard, each variety has its virtues. Blocks can be smooth, bristly, and even magnetic.

    Each sort of block has something important to teach a child.

    Wooden Toy Blocks

    From as far back as 1811, wooden blocks have been admired as an ideal toy for learning. Friedrich Froebel, known as the inventor of Kindergarten, developed a series of wooden toys for exploration in the year 1837. 

    Decades after their development, these wooden toys underwent a transformation with the work of Maria Montessori, Italian physician and educator. Montessori found that wooden blocks helped develop motor skills while also exploring the laws of physics.

    Wooden blocks are available painted or unpainted, and come in a variety of sets. Sets including only colorful square cubes are as valuable as larger sets with more shape variety – both are engaging for young children.

    Foam Toy Blocks

    A lighter (and safer if being thrown) version of the standard wooden variety, foam block allow children to explore shapes and experiment with stacking and building. These blocks come in a variety of colors, and some blocks even fit together like puzzle pieces.

    Jumbo Cardboard Blocks

    There is something magical for a small child to be able to manipulate a relatively large item – these blocks are in the shape of big bricks, perfect for building a fort or just stacking one atop the other. Best of all, it doesn’t hurt when they fall on your head!

    Duplo Toy Blocks

    The precursor to Legos, these blocks are the perfect thing to fit into the chunky hands of toddlers and preschoolers. For younger children, large Duplo blocks provide the challenge of building without the danger of chocking on small parts.

    Magnetic Toy Blocks

    Completely different from wooden blocks, these building materials are 3D, translucent and magnetic. School-age children will especially enjoy the possibilities with magnetic blocks, which add another dimension to play.

    Legos

    Preschoolers on up will have hours of productive and imaginative fun creating whatever they can think of with Legos. Then they can take their creation apart and begin again!

    Legos can be purchased in large general kits, which is the most open-ended choice. Lego manufacturers also make ‘kits’ (Star Wars, for example) so that children can create favorite movie scenes. 

    The great news is that, regardless of when you bought your Legos, they all fit together flawlessly.

    Now is the Time!

    Regardless of your current block status, now is the time to take action! Already got blocks? Rotate them! Put the old ones in a cupboard for a month or so while introducing a new variety. Don’t have blocks yet? Choose a variety to use with your child – and get ready to have some fun!

    Interested in getting your little one to play independently?

    Check out my Purposeful Playspace e-course to learn how to create a space for your children that invites them to playin ways that are more engaging, purposeful and independent.

    Want more information about how play impacts your child’s development?

    Check out my e-book: Simply Play: Everything You Need To Know About The Most Important Part of Childhood

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  • How to get a toddler to play independently

    Ah, the toddler stage. Not so long ago your little peanut was just hanging out, willingly wherever you set him or her. Now… not so much.

    Gone are the days of stationary play. Now, it’s off the races to get into anything and everything ALL DAY LONG. It’s exhausting!

    Which is probably why you’re here right? You’re going crazy and just want your toddler to play independently for even just five, uninterrupted minutes!

    Don’t worry I got you! 

    But, first, we need to look at a few things to really understand what play is for a child.

    The 3 Major Types of play in child development

    ‘Play’ can mean many things,  but to help break it down some experts have divided it into three categories- social, independent, and guided play.

    Each category has its own benefits, but just like everything in life you can have too much or too little. Finding balance in your toddlers routine and setting them up to for success requires that they learn each type of pla

    What is social play in child development? 

    Social play is exactly what it sounds like, children playing with one another in a social setting (or an adult plays with a child). Social play is usually structured, like throwing a ball, playing house, or teacher. There are certain “how-tos” and “rules” to follow. For example, to throw and catch a ball you have to do it in a specific way to be successful.

    What is Independent play?

    For a toddler to play independently, they have to be left to their own devices. While it’s “easy” to learn social skills for most toddlers it’s 10x harder for them to learn to be self-reliant. Encouraging your toddler to play independently helps them learn many things like problem-solving, to accept failure, and really tune into their imagination and creativity without being set with any “rules” on how they “should” be playing or what they “should” be doing.

    What is Guided play?

    When a child engages in guided play they are using props setup by adults that encourage a specific outcome. This can be something as simple as making sugar cookies or elaborate as building a robot. Obviously you aren’t going to be building a robot with your toddler but if you have ever set out finger pants with the end goal being to create a handprint wreath then you’ve engaged your child in independent play.

    What are the benefits of play-based learning

    Play is invaluable when it comes to child development; here are several tangible benefits:

    • influential in healthy brain development
    • critical part of fine motor and gross motor development
    • necessary for learning to negotiate and solve disagreements
    • helps children discovering new interests
    • essential for both expressive and receptive language development
    • crucial for social-emotional learning

    Encouraging independent play is important! The value of solo play specifically is rooted in skills of independence and imagination. A child playing in a self-directed way feels competent and capable.

    They then take this confidence through their teenage years and into adulthood. 

    When Can I Begin Easing My Child Towards Independent Play?

    Short answer: sooner than you think! 

    It’s important, first and foremost, to consider the age and developmental stage of your child. Older children can be expected to play alone for longer periods of time than younger children. A six-month-old child, for example, may be able to play independently for about five minutes, while a one-year-old might play for fifteen minutes, and a toddler for 30. . 

    These times refer to children who’ve been ‘trained’ for independent play. If you haven’t been teaching your child to play independently from infancy and you tell your toddler one day to ‘go play’ they likely aren’t going to do it.

    How to encourage independent play in toddlers

    There are several variables to consider when guiding your child towards independent play, including environment, toys, routine and monitoring. 

    Step One: Check Your Environment

    To encourage independent play, the environment will be a safe space for children to explore. This area will not include breakable chachkies or knick-knacks. It won’t have lamp cords to pull on pointy-cornered glass tables. It’s difficult to encourage independent play when a parent is hovering and constantly telling the child ‘no’. 

    The bedroom, living room, family room and even kitchen can be suitable play spaces as long as safety comes first. Think of all those pots and pans in the kitchen just waiting for little hands!

    Will I Need to Buy All New Toys for My Toddler?

    Not only are fancy toys unnecessary for independent play, they’re actually detrimental to the whole process. Open-ended toys breed success in independent play. Wooden blocks, balls, Legos, magnets, and more are good examples of open-ended toys.

    Open-ended-toys can be used in many different ways. A block can be stacked as part of a building, or it can be used like a cell phone or a microphone. There’s no ‘wrong’ way to use a block (as long as you’re being safe). 

    When considering whether a toy is suited for independent play, consider how your child might use it.  If there is only one way to use the toy (an electronic keyboard, for example), save it for a session of guided play.

    Although one might say an iPad or smartphone has many uses, and is therefore suitable, electronics are not appropriate for independent play. Electronic devices may encourage boredom in children, as they are an ongoing source of stimulation. 

    When children become accustomed to blinking lights and lots of activity, it can make it difficult for them to transition to coloring or playing with blocks.

    Step Two: Time IN

    What is ‘Time In’? It is intentional time spent playing with your child with no distractions. Put away your cell phone or device and set a timer based on the age of your child. For an infant, start with five minutes, for toddlers go for 10-15 and if your child is five years old, set the timer for about twenty minutes.  

    Tell your  child, “I’m yours for ten minutes – what should we do?” Then simply follow their lead. Don’t correct, coach or teach. Go with their ideas, and be present.

    When the time is up, tell them what fun you had, and how you need to go do your work now. T

    When using this routine with an infant or toddler, you must stay in the same room. That being said, as your child is playing independently, be sure to busy yourself with another task. It’s not ‘independent play’ if you’re still involved.

    If you have older children, say 5 years old after your time is up tell them you’ll be back a little later. Then, twenty or thirty minutes later, check on them. You may need to stay in the same room initially.’ if you’re still involved.

    Encouraging Your Toddler to Play Independently Relies on a Play Routine

    Like anything you teach your child, independent play must be practiced over time. Don’t expect to try it once and have your child be an expert right out of the gate. 

    Additionally, don’t expect a three-year-old to acclimate to this practice immediately. Independent play is a quicker success story the earlier you begin the routine.

    Monitoring

    You will be observing and checking on your child during independent play. What are you looking for exactly? Flow is the ultimate goal – that state of mind where you’re so involved in something that you forget yourself. 

    Flow is a wonderfully gratifying state of mind for all ages, and it’s certainly possible for a preschooler to attain. 

    Final Thoughts on Toddler Independent Play

    Independent play is a worthwhile goal for you and your family. It may take a while to become comfortable in this routine, and there will undoubtedly be stops and starts along the way.

    Give yourself, and your child, lots of grace along the way, and keep in mind that the ability to be alone and entertain one’s self is a lifelong skill. Most of all, enjoy the journey!

    Interested in getting your little one to play independently?

    Check out my Purposeful Playspace e-course to learn how to create a space for your children that invites them to playin ways that are more engaging, purposeful and independent.

    Want more information about how play impacts your child’s development?

    Check out my e-book: Simply Play: Everything You Need To Know About The Most Important Part of Childhood

    Love this post? Check out some of the articles below.

    Are Pikler triangles worth it? abso-freakin-lutely

    Are Pikler triangles worth it? abso-freakin-lutely So what is this magic triangle that seems to be in every playroom on Instagram?  It’s a Pikler triangle and there are some great reasons why so many moms are falling in love with them.   You may be wondering if Pikler triangles are worth it? And I say abso-freakin-lutely. …

    Episode 5: The Psychological Importance of Play + How to Recover from Helicopter Parenting

    On this episode of Play. Learn. Thrive., clinical psychologist Sarah Mundy shares with Alanna insights about the importance of play in the development of confident, self-motivated, independent kids. In addition to being a core element of emotional and intellectual growth, play has been recognized internationally as a fundamental right of children. Sarah highlights clinical experience…

    Risky Play: What Parents NEED to Know

    Risky Play Children have an innate need for risk-taking. In addition, children who are encouraged to take risks at a younger age are able to better manage risk once they have gained more independence. A lack of ample opportunity to take risks may increase fear and inappropriate aggression, as well as limit the ability to…

    How to effectively teach a child to entertain themselves

    How to teach play skills & What to do when a child can’t entertain themselves One of the reasons children struggle to entertain themselves is because they don’t have the play skills they need. Play is not just a way for your child to have fun, but it is how children integrate ideas and concepts…

    Episode 4: Responsive Parenting + Play to Address Child Behavior

    On this episode of Play Learn Thrive, Alanna speaks with Sheena Hill, psychotherapist and sleep coach. During their discussion, they touch on how to engage in responsive parenting over behavioral modification, and how to better connect with your young children when they’re struggling with right choices. Main Takeaways: Any time your children are under stress,…

    Read More