Rachel OT On What To Consider When Choosing A Toy

Our DIY kits are designed to hone in on important skill development in our children as they play. This week Rachel Carey, an Occupational Therapist who specializes in developmental play, chats about the value of being intentional when choosing a toy for your child while she engages with her son as he builds his own Tool Box Kit.

“I am a complete child development nerd. I just love it. I love everything to do with how these little brains are growing and learning and creating. How the pathways are firing and becoming more efficient. And most amazingly, how these perfect little brains and bodies are designed to do this all best through play.

Bearing this in mind, you can imagine how excited I get when I watch children play and engage with their toys in a way that is meaningful, building on their ideas and extending their play repertoires.

You don't need a lot for children to play and learn. And as a general rule of thumb, the less the toy does, the better the play. But there are a few basic principles which go a long way to helping children learn, and I think the Stumped Wooden Toys range have been designed to pretty much cover all of these bases.

The first is when a toy allows some element of imagination and pretend play. Children learn through narratives and stories. Whether it is walking around with your very own tool box pretending to be a builder, or using the construction toys to build a castle for your dragon and princess, being able to think of a story and to grow and extend it, does marvels for developing your child's planning and organisation skills. 

Toys that are too specific, that give you too strict a guideline, or that do too much for you, don't allow for the same amount of creation and imagination. The Stumped Wooden Toys range, in their plain wood, and simple shapes that can be built and made and changed and broken down, really allow for this. 

The second thing I look for in a toy is whether or not it involves problem solving. Nothing works better at engaging the cortex of the brain (that executive functioning, critical thinking part of the brain) than asking a question.

Toys which pose a problem, or involve some perceptual or cognitive challenge that needs to be solved, are going to ensure learning. 

Figuring out how to position the blocks and pegs, or how to follow the step-by-step instructions of assembling their tool box or bird feeder, is going to give your child the opportunity to start thinking in a problem-solving, strategic way. 

These skills, when practiced in play, help your child approach any problem later in life - how to start off and make their way through a school work task, how to set about doing a class project, or even how to clean up their room and organise their toys.

The imagination, planning and cognition are great, but it is also important to remember that we are primarily sensory learners. We learn through doing. Engaging our bodies and our brains together is where the sweet spot is for children. 

A toy has got to to be real. It has to be tangible and practical. A child must be able to feel it, and manipulate it, and move it, and play with it physically. This is especially true when they are younger.

Just watching my boys with their Stumped Wooden Toys toolbox has been an absolute treat for me. 

Seeing how they feel the texture of the wood. How they experiment with and move the different pieces, using their hands to help guide the decisions they make. How they develop their little pincer grips to turn the screws and allen key or adjust their force with the wooden hammer to get the peg into the wood. How the construction takes coordinating and using their two hands together effectively.  How putting the pieces together involves hand strength and use of all the small muscles of the hand together in an efficient way. And their eyes - using their hands and eyes together to develop visual motor integration for better hand-eye coordination and spatial perception.

Assembling the toolbox, provided for them in one session of play, such a range of fine motor, tactile sensory learning and visual perception development. As an OT who works with children who struggle so much with tactile discrimination, the development of fine motor skills, and visual perception, this kind of toy makes my heart sing with happiness.

So look for a toy that is open ended and encourages imagination, that poses a problem or a challenge, and that allows your child to experience it in a sensory and motor way. You do this, and you are guaranteed development and leaning. Most importantly though, you are pretty certain to get hours of good fun play!"

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