With my daughter going on 3, I’ve had a couple years to observe young kids playing with -- and ignoring -- all kinds of toys. I’ve noticed that toys with the brightest colors, the loudest noises, the most batteries, and the steepest price tags tend to be boring; push the button and listen to the horse go neigh. And … that’s it.
The American Academy of Pediatrics warns against falling prey to toys claiming to help a child reach a development milestone early (“Teach your child to read by age 3!”) and insists toys need not be trendy or expensive. They also advise parents to avoid toys that “discourage children from using their imaginations.” But what exactly does that mean?
My pediatrician recommends toys designed for Montessori and Waldorf classrooms. They’re designed to foster the imagination, not do your child’s thinking and dreaming for her. Such toys can be pricey, but you can fill your child’s toy box with equally engaging toys by scouring thrift stores, consignment shops, dollar stores, Craigslist, and yard sales.
These 10 toys have worked for my daughter and might just bring out your child’s innate imagination.
1.) Blocks. Build a skyscraper, a ship, an airplane, or an entire city. Legos, Lincoln Logs, Tinker Toys, and other blocks that fit together enable kids to build complex, detailed structures. Kids also love plain blocks, even the ones made from cardboard. Encourage your child to build from her imagination rather than attempting to replicate the picture on the box.
2.) Play-kitchen. The modern play-kitchen now has a microwave and may come with stainless steel appliances, but the idea remains the same. Kids like to imitate what they see their parents do every day. As in the grown-up world, a top-of-the line kitchen can be a budget buster. The bells and whistles are unnecessary. A basic model will do just fine.
3.) Broom, mop, and dustpan. When possible, choose toys that let your child do what you do rather than just pretend. For example, Montessori toy suppliers sell pint-size brooms, mops, and dustpans that allow your child to clean alongside you. Your child may also enjoy real-life gardening tools.
4.) Craft box. Think gooey, messy, sticky, and colorful when stocking your child’s craft box. Depending on your child’s age, you might include markers, stickers, glue, tape, finger paints, old greeting cards, dried pasta, dried beans, and anything else that might make a fun, free-form art project.
5.) Musical instruments. You can make your own or buy a set and keep adding to it: cymbals, tambourines, maracas, chimes, drums, a keyboard, and a ukulele. Turn a paper towel tube, some kidney beans, and tape into an instrument. Two plastic plates filled with beans and glued together will make a fine tambourine.