Toddlers

New Reviews and Articles

 
Basic Tools of Play & Learning
Posted: 2014-11-18 14:16:36 By: Joanne Oppenheim

Every so often we get a note from a parent saying they bought a toy that's a total dud--"very disappointing--my child didn't know what to do with it. The toy just sat there and did nothing." But, a set of building blocks, a ball, a rattle, a doll; all of these basic toys do nothing and that is a good thing. In stacking the blocks, shaking the rattle, rolling the ball or chasing it, or talking to a doll, the child is the active player. At every age, play is a two way street. The toy is the tool--the child is the player.

      For starters, parents have an important role beyond buying and unpacking the toys they bring home; they need to introduce a new plaything. For a sitting up baby, a soft fabric ball is basic gear that needs two players to connect in the very social give and take of games like roly poly: "Mommy is rolling the ball to you--oh, you got it! Now, roll the ball to Mommy!" These little back and forth games are a kind of social conversation that you share.

      Similarly, a set of building bricks for toddlers needs modeling to start. "Let's make a long long road. How long can we make it? How high can we make a tower before it goes ka-boom?" Please, forget about the picture on the box. Reproducing models comes later. Building with your child gets them started. But taking over and building for you child diminishes important learning possibilities. Building develops children's dexterity, mathematical thinking, their problem solving skills, language and imagination. But first kids needs to explore how things go together. Making things that look like the picture on the box diminishes the learning possibilities that are built into construction play.

      Wooden train sets with tracks are another kind of construction toy. Trying to make a roadbed of wooden tracks that connects is both the challenge and the fun. Play around together with the many ways to make a roadbed, modeling and discovering the multiple possibilities and then watch them go. Before long, you will be delighted with the kinds of flexible thinking kids are capable of using in creative ways. Forget about making a display table like the one in the store with tracks glued down. If you do that, you've lost most of the play values and learning involved in trial and error. Indeed that train will soon lose its interest.

      Unfortunately, too many of the playthings made for kids do just the opposite of nothing--they do way too much with a push of a button while kids watch and the kinds of real learning that come from play are lost!

Choices That May Outplay the Big Box Treats
Posted: 2014-11-13 10:36:09

Is your mailbox full of catalogs? Have you noticed the holiday gift wrap, cards, and candy canes displays are full? While the kids are doing their lists, now is the time to look for small surprises they might not put on the wish list—things that are not necessarily being plugged on TV. Often the smaller treats have more play value than the big box hot toys of the season. Many of these will fit in a stocking or be the right scale for the many nights of Hanukkah or Kwanza.  Click here to find some good choices.

Putting the Pieces Together
Tags: puzzles
Posted: 2014-10-28 11:31:59 By: by Joanne Oppenheim

In a world full of toys that talk, walk and practically stand on their heads to amuse, the idea of puzzles may seem a bit dull or old fashioned. What does it do? Nothing? No, look again. Puzzles are brain and finger food. They challenge kids to see parts of an image that fit together to form a whole image. Puzzles require patience, thought, and dexterity as well--important skills that are also needed to read, write and solve problems. Whether you are shopping for preschoolers or tweens, add some puzzles to the mix. In fact, with older kids, why not clear a table and create a family puzzle spot that everyone can work on as they have a few moments. Young children like to work their puzzles more than once. Keep it simple for building a sense of success. One piece puzzles teach toddlers about having to turn the pieces to fit them into the slot. Two-piece puzzles teach them about part/whole relationships. Giving preschoolers strategies such as looking for the straight sides to make a frame, looking for parts that connect a figure, using the image on the box to find clues--all of these are teachable moments that help kids get it together. Here are some of our top picks from this season and a few from years past, as well.

More Than Your Old Lotto Game
Tags: matching games
Posted: 2014-08-23 09:11:55

Games the involve matching are usually the first we play with beginners, games of Lotto, Go Fish, and Concentration are still basic fare for preschoolers. What do they learn from such games? More than you might think. Matching skills are important for the kind of visual discrimination readers need. Instead of starting with letters, and the fine differences between letters like b vs. d or n vs. m, preschoolers do better with picture matching that ask them to match colors, shapes or objects. Slightly older children are ready to move on to more complex matching.

You'll find many other matching games among previous winners; check the age group games by clicking the group on the left. Here are some of the newest matching games.

Toddlers and Making Believe
Tags: pretend play, language, imagination, symbolic play
Posted: 2013-12-12 17:57:29 By: Joanne Oppenheim

As language develops so does the ability to use words for imagining. With older toddlers you begin to get a preview of the emerging power of playing with pretend. Suddenly the little driver will be delivering packages to you or in the toy kitchen he'll stir up a batch of pretend cookies for you to taste. Dolls, plastic dishes, and vehicles are perfect props for that sort of play. Such toys not only fuel budding imaginations, they build language and story telling skills. Small settings with tracks, buildings such as a house, store, or garage empower such play. But watch the age labels on your choices, since many are designed for kids who are three and up and past the stage when they mouth their toys. Here are some toys for beginning pretend play:

For rare sit-down moments
Tags: fine motor skills, making things happen, toddlers
Posted: 2013-12-10 10:07:54 By: joanne Oppenheim

In between their usual perpetual motion, toddlers are interested in an occasional sit-down activity. Toys that involve developing their fine motor skills are fun, especially when there is repetition along with real pay-offs. Here are six great toddler choices that our testers love.

On the Run Fun
Tags: toddlers, active play,
Posted: 2013-12-10 10:02:46 By: joanne Oppenheim

For the toddler on your list the choices are all about active on-the-go play. This is the time when locomotion is the driving force of their waking hours. From cruising to toddling to running, their objective all sublime is motion! Here are a few top picks that are ready to rock and roll with them. Click here for six great choices:

Choosing Dolls to Fit Your Child's Developmental Stage
Posted: 2014-09-19 14:46:07 By: Joanne Oppenheim


While the toy companies vie for the honor of introducing the Doll of the Year, for parents and grandparents, the best choice for that honor needs to connect to your child's age and stage. As I recall,  when Stephanie, your toy guru, was a preschooler she had--click here to continue.

Toys for Kids with Special Needs
Tags: SNAP Awards, toys for special needs,
Posted: 2013-11-25 15:24:40 By: Joanne Oppenheim

Finding toys for kids with special needs is not that different from choosing toys for all kids. Good toys match children's developmental skills, their interests, and most of all are really appealing. Click here for Top Toys For Kids with Special Needs.

Look at the Toy...not just the license
Tags: licensed items, familiar characters.
Posted: 2013-10-11 16:50:06 By: by Joanne Oppenheim

Licensed toys are often short lived. Many are more like souvenirs of a movie or TV series. Since the toymaker has to pay extra for the license, they are often a bit pricier and as the movie fades, like most toys de jour, they tend to lose their appeal. The truth is, a Mickey Mouse puppet is no more educational than any other puppet. It may be easier for a child to play scenes with characters they know, but a puppet made from a paper bag may invite more original story-telling, language, and imagination than premade characters. As with most things, we are not absolutists. We prefer to look at the toy itself rather than the license.

This season we found quite a few well-known licensed toys that have play value. Click here to see some worth considering.

 

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