After two hours in a toy store, picking a PERFECT toy for your PERFECT baby, you finally proudly present another cute and cuddly fluffy to your little precious child only to find out, that this toy is destined to be collecting dust just like your baby’s other possessions in the toy chest. What’s wrong? According to the founder of the Institute of Achievement of Human Potential, the author of revolutionary books “How to Teach Your Baby To Read”, “How to Teach your Baby Math” and others, the child spends approximately ninety seconds playing with an average toy: a small child looks at it, feels it, tastes it, sniffs it, bangs it on a floor or shakes it in the air to see if it makes noise. All human senses have tested the new toy. Now the toy gets thrown out….
Does it mean the baby’s attention span is so short or that he is not smart enough? Quite the opposite: “…he wants desperately to learn everything he can, and as quickly as possible.” (Glenn Doman, How To Teach Your Baby To Read, The Gentle Revolution Press, 2002. P.25) The baby is smart enough to examine every object quickly, learn from it as soon as he can and move on – he has a whole world ahead of him and doesn’t have a second to waste!
So, does it mean giving him toys is useless? No. All children development researches constantly prove what every mother already knows – that her baby has a hidden genius inside, waiting to be unleashed. Or… never to be discovered… To help the inner genius to come out of hiding, we need to provide our baby the environment stimulating enough for him to learn as fast as he wants. There are dozens of books on how to interact with your baby, how to improve his strength, health, nutrition, how to teach him. This article is purely about fun time: how to select educational toys for babies that your children will enjoy for longer then 90 seconds and that will help his development.
Yes, toys actually can help your child to develop, leading him to good grades, good friends, good skills. But since the selection is so vast and needs of children of different ages are so different, today we will concentrate on selecting toys for the youngest ones – for your cute little baby.
First, lets consider safety: I’ll never forget the huge bump on a head of my little boy, who figured out how to shake a rattle for the first time and the canny rattle hit him with all the great might of a happy baby hand! Check for items that can become loose and turn into chocking hazards. Check for sharp edges targeting your dearest baby’s skin, check for parts that can break while inquisitive little explorer is going to bang it against the floor, check the loose stitching that can give in to curious little fingers revealing harmful filling inside. Now, consider how you can please every one of those senses that baby will use to study her toy: every effort baby makes to understand and learn something, will result in another brain neurological connection being made. You don’t need to be an Einstein to realize, that the more neurological connections there is – the smarter your baby is going to be in the future!
The baby will feel the toy with his hand. Let’s try to pick something with variable texture: smooth, rough, soft, bumpy, slippery, and fuzzy. Plastic, fur, cloth, rubber, wood, silk, velvet – the more, the merrier! The more textures there are for the baby to explore, the longer he will stay exploring the toy. Aha, we already managed to keep his attention on the toy for longer then 90 seconds, right? Now, he will taste it. Of course you already checked the toy for safety, right? May be you want to put it into your mouth to see if there are no protruding parts, that could poke him inside? Is it comfortable for the little hands, is it convenient to grab? Time to listen to it. Luckily, our toy industry is working hard to entice the sense of hearing – most of the songs beep like a cell phone, mew like a cat, howl like a siren, play like a piano… Make sure you try ALL of those sounds. It is time to think of your own sanity: babies often become so fascinated with sounds, that they turn them on and on for hours – can you tolerate this that long?
My nephew once had a toy bus that was playing “Wheels on the bus go round and round” for hours, and hours, and hours… Nobody in a family could escape the headache. His Dad finally managed to sneak into the room and secretly take the batteries out.
My baby has got a toy car, that was singing “Are you driving, are you driving” any time anybody would walk past it. It didn’t take me long to transform the words into “Driving nuts! Driving nuts!” Homeland Security should throw these toys into the bad guys to shake up their sanity! Trust me, nobody could sustain the attack of even a few minutes of this tune. May be a variety of sounds would be better? How about an ability to make the sound level louder or softer? Once again, I urge you to listen to the tunes: babies will listen to anything you give them, so do you want your child play this silly song for hours or would you rather prefer him to get acquainted with beauty of Mozart’s pieces (“Twinkle-Twinkle little star” for the beginners in classical music, “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik” for more advanced – I am talking about you, since for baby both will sound pleasing and interesting – your baby may be small, but not dumb, so he is entitled for a good music just as you are!) If the toy is making animal sounds, think again if you want your baby to learn how the real piggy talks or the strange grumping sounds produced by some hungover dude.
Just looking at the toy is going to be one of the primary methods of examining it! Multiple bright colors will help develop his vision, variable patterns – his ability to concentrate on detail, letters, numbers, shapes – even if he doesn’t know those objects yet, he will remember them for later.
Now let’s see other developmental peculiarities of a toy: it has animal pictures all over? Do they actually look like RECOGNIZABLE animals? It is an honorable effort to introduce your baby to the abstract art, but it is better to use famous museum pieces for that amiable purpose. To make your baby learn animals, select toys with animals that you can positively identify as such, not some suspicious monsters. If you think your 7 year old would do a better job drawing the cat, then the toy’s decorator, then skip this toy and move on to something more comprehensible.
It is a good idea to keep in mind that smallest babies can’t even distinguish the details and color tunes, so for infants it is better forgo the pastels, and stick to primary colors (white, black, red, yellow, blue), shapes and textures. Wavy lines, checkerboard patterns, dots and lozenges will do a better job for a developing brain of an infant, then indistinguishable for it tiny doggies, kitties.
Ahhh, yeah – size matters.
Size of the toy matters – we have already talked about convenience of grabbing by the little hands. If the toy has any buttons, check if it is easy enough to press it for the baby of your age. The bigger – isn’t necessarily the better – at first your baby would not be able to reach from one huge button to the next. And, obviously, babies don’t develop fine motor skills until about 7 months, so if you are choosing a toy for a younger baby, make sure that buttons and controls are large and easy enough for him to pull.
Size of the pictures matters a lot more than you think. The research shows that for small kids it is easier to comprehend and remember objects displayed in large sizes. Small babies absolutely adore really huge cardboard books that you present to them and prefer just munching of the small and cute ones that inspire so many “aaaahh” and “sooooh cute” of your girlfriends. Once your baby grows at least a few years, she will be able to admire the cute Little People or her own tiny library, but now – let her enjoy large and clear images, large and clear messages, large buttons, easy to pull controls.
You like this toy since it has all the numbers, colors, letters, and shapes? Good job on selecting variety of things to help development of your baby’s visual pathways! But to ensure your baby actually learns them (not merely distinguishes them), either you, or the toy should NAME every one of those, at least once in a while. Point and name the letters, shapes, colors – even if your baby is so tiny, he will not miss this opportunity to learn and surprise you one day, confirming that your firm belief in his inner genius proved to be true! To a reasonable extent, of course.
Your baby’s sense of smell our toy industry has not indulged yet – the toys do not have different smells yet. That’s until your baby will play with it, slather it with his solid foods, saturate with his saliva, drop it into a really dusty corner. Then it is going to be the time to appeal to your sense of smell. And common sense too – since you want your baby playing with CLEAN toys, your selection should be easily washable (preferably – machine-wash or dishwasher safe, but at least – easy to wipe with a clean wet cloth).
Now, finally, what can the toy do? The larger the set of activities, the better. And by that we do not mean more buttons – instead, look for various activities: twisting, pulling, dragging, opening (kids most popular) and closing, reflecting, etc. Look for substitutes – can you change the toys around, so that it looks like a different toy? Can you add items to this toy, such as easily adding or removing toys from a baby gym, or placing something different inside opening compartment? The more activities you can come up with while playing with that toy in a store, the longer your baby will play with it at home.
Keep in mind that babies LOVE movement. My 4 months son could spent as much as an hour examining simple blue whale, that was singing and vibrating, moving across the surface: he loved to watch the whale move across the surface as it vibrated, catching him with his arms and trying to shovel into his mouth, enjoying the vibrations of the tail against his teething gums. But once the whale stops moving, my baby starts whaling for me to come up with a new entertainment – standing whale is absolutely useless for him – he already learned everything there is to learn about velvety rounded toy and can’t wait to explore the mechanics of him moving through the space. So, I turn on the whale, and the fun begins!
The last but not least: don’t be afraid of the toys aimed at larger children. Be careful and never leave your baby with such toys unattended, but babies learn amazingly fast and you would be surprised how many uses your baby will find for a more advanced toy: my tiny baby could spend hours with the saucer-like activity board for 9 month olds. Initially, he enjoyed just the lights on the buttons, later – reaching and for the buttons and banging on them, then – sucking on a wheel and rolling the ball… and every few days he surprises me with a new motion that he can accomplish in making this board produce new sounds and actions.
Finally… have fun playing! How? That’s a separate topic that we would be happy to present to you in the near future.