Shopping for gifts is one of those chores that I look forward to. But during the previous holidays, buying presents for my nephews has not been an exciting and pleasurable experience.
It’s because they specifically asked for drones – things that I thought were just used in wars and for spying. I had to spend several minutes reading up on these items (which I still can’t believe are toys that children can play with). I also needed to check their prices repeatedly.
Since they are so expensive, the drones have to be operated or played with care to avoid damaging them…which is why the trend of letting children play with drones is quite difficult to digest. With their playful nature, who can expect kids to be gentle in handling and operating these toys?
Unfortunately, to avoid more holiday shopping stress and disappointing my nephews, I gave in to their request. But I made a silent promise to introduce them to wooden toys.
If you find shopping for electronic devices for your kids tiresome and want to reduce the unhealthy amount of time they spend staring at their gadgets’ small screens, then it’s high time you gave them playthings that are making quite a splash again: wooden toys. These toys, which are made of natural materials, are environment-friendly, durable, timeless, long-lasting and safe to play with.
Wooden puzzles, games and activity sets will allow children to enjoy a variety of benefits. They play an important role in a child’s normal growth and development through the following ways:
Hand and eye coordination is a skill that pertains to the simultaneous use of the eyes and hands in doing something. This is an important ability that everyone needs to write, draw, and paint properly. It is also crucial for playing sports and other activities such as catching and kicking a ball or hitting it with a tennis racquet.
This is a skill that is crucial in the growth and development of babies and toddlers. Wooden toys that can be built, stacked, and sorted are great for helping little ones cultivate and refine this skill. Kids will need to coordinate their hand and eye movements to build a tower or to stack and sort the pieces according to instructions or based on their own ideas.
Gross motor skills refer to movements involving the large muscle groups such as the legs and arms. Fine motor skills, on the other hand, refer to movements that use smaller muscle groups. These include the hands, wrist, and fingers.
Big wooden toys such as rocking horses and push and pull toys such as a cart or baby carriage help build a child’s arm and leg strength. They also enhance their balance and coordination.
Wooden building blocks and other toys that can be stacked and manipulated are helpful in developing the fine motor skills of babies and toddlers.
Wooden blocks, sorting and stacking toys, and other activity sets come in a variety of colors and shapes. As such, it is easy to teach young kids the basic colors and shapes using these play items.
Building and sorting toys, in particular, are time-tested playthings that are effective in helping kids learn through play – not only about shapes but about spatial awareness as well. When kids build, they have to understand spatial organization so that they can create a structure that won’t fall. With sorting toys, they have to be familiar with the different shapes and realize that one will not fit in a hole that does not have the same shape as a particular piece.
These toys also enable children to develop and enhance their visual-spatial skill – something that is essential for reading readiness.
Most wooden toys that can be built, sorted and manipulated come with numbers. These playthings are, therefore, helpful in introducing numbers to toddlers and younger children. Certain activity sets need to be constructed or arranged following the correct sequence of numbers, thereby allowing them to know about the concept of counting as well.
Building toys also allow kids to know other rudimentary math concepts such as adding, subtracting, and basic geometry. Children will be able to build shapes and numbers with these toys. They also have to apply basic mathematical calculations to build the perfect design.
Toys made of wood are not equipped with electronic voices or parts that tell kids what to do. They are not designed to fit just one activity, either. Because of these, kids will need to rely on their cognitive and reasoning skills to play with their toys.
Children are also given the opportunity to enhance their reasoning skills when they sort and manipulate the different shapes or pieces to go into the right category, place, or hole. They have to know how to best organize or construct these toys either by size, shape, or color.
In addition, wooden playthings help kids develop their problem-solving skills. Because wooden toys come in more general shapes and sizes, kids will need to rely on their problem-solving skills to figure out how to make them fit or work in certain scenarios.
To make wooden toys more interesting and fun to play with, children will have to rely on their imagination and creativity. They will have to work with what they have: blocks and other shapes or pieces to create a house and other structures. These are great opportunities that allow kids to explore the uses of their toys and come up with more creative ways to use them in different situations.
Lastly, traditional wooden toys provide more opportunities for children to play and interact with others. These items are simply easier to share and to encourage kids to come together and speak with each other to build something or to finish a puzzle. After all, with wooden toys, there is no chance for your kids to hog a device to play a game. They will have to communicate with their playmates or with you if they need help, or if they are looking for other ways to play with their toys.
There is nothing wrong with giving your kids a gadget as a gift and letting them use this device. After all, there are advantages that come with letting them play or use gadgets. Unfortunately, the disadvantages of letting them spend hours in front of their device outnumber the benefits.
The negative effects of letting children have nearly unlimited screen time include:
Because of these frightening effects, it is important for parents and guardians to start limiting their kids’ screen times, especially now that a certain study showed that many toddlers below the age of one are already starting to use mobile devices.
For older kids, the operative word to remember is limiting screen time and as such, this doesn’t mean stopping them from using gadgets completely.:
Provide your kids ample toys that can get them thinking, spark their creativity, and keep them busy for hours. As already mentioned, different types of wooden toys such as building blocks and activity sets will enable them to engage in imaginative or pretend play for hours
As adults, we are also guilty of spending too much time in front of our smartphone, tablet, laptop, and other electronic devices. Start reducing your own screen time as well so that your children will be inspired to follow your example.
Spend more time playing with your kids outdoors or indoors as well and they will soon discover that this is more fun and productive than playing an online game or mobile app. Simply bringing them to the nearest playground, park, zoo or activity or recreational center will also get them moving and make them forget about reaching for a smartphone or tablet.
When kids have their personal TVs or you allow them to use their gadgets in their bedroom, you will have a harder time reducing their screen time. This is because the temptation is always there for them. In addition, you won’t be able to keep an eye on them while they are using their devices in their rooms.
As such, set a rule that kids can only watch TV and use their gadgets in the common room. Make a schedule according to what time they can watch TV or use their device and how many hours they can do this. Ask them what times they prefer and make sure you come up with a consensus regarding their screen time so that they will be more apt to agree with the schedule. They will be less likely to complain as well.
Take the lead and recommend different games, activities, or sports for your kids to play or engage in. Research age-appropriate activities and teach kids how to play them. However, introduce these games or activities only; do not be bossy or force them to play so that they won’t resent you or your suggestions.
As much as possible, suggest ones that can take place outdoors and those that involve some movement or will encourage them to get physical.
Kids who play with wooden toys will experience more developmental benefits – benefits that most electronic devices and gadgets can’t provide.
Sreeya Patil Wiesner is the founder of EcoToys in Dubai, UAE. She started her online toy store with an aim to provide healthy, safe and eco-friendly wooden toys to kids 0-6 years of age.