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home : blogs : first things first - ready for school, set for life July 22, 2014

First Things First - Ready for School, Set for Life
By Memarie Tsosie, Window Rock, AZ
Stories, profiles and news you can use about early childhood development and health for children ages birth to five.
Friday, November 22, 2013

Best Gifts for Kids Under 6? Simple Toys, Quality Time with Adults

 Memarie Tsosie

The top choice for holiday gifts that will fire up young kids' minds? Books, and your time in reading them.

Black Friday ads, websites, blogs, relatives and friends all have suggestions on the latest must-have toys for kids, but when it comes to promoting learning for children 5 and younger, basic toys and time with adult caregivers are the best presents a child can receive.

"All the fancy bells and whistles - and the price tag that goes with them - don't necessarily translate in to learning for young kids," said Sam Leyvas, Chief Executive Officer for First Things First. "Toys that appeal to the way the brains of infants, toddlers and preschoolers work - especially those that can involve adults in their play - will be used most by young children in the long term, and will help them develop skills they need to be successful once they enter school."

Research shows that 80 to 90 percent of a child's brain develops by the time they are five years old. During that time, children learn most through interactions with adults, play and experimentation.

"That's why you often see kids more interested in the box or wrapping the toy comes in than the toy itself," Leyvas said. "To us, it's a box; but to a child's imagination, it's a rocket ship, a castle, a school, a cave, and a million other things."

The top choice for holiday gifts that will fire up young kids' minds? Books, and your time in reading them. Reading to children - 15 minutes per day for infants, 30 minutes a day for toddlers and preschoolers - is the most important way to encourage language and literacy and impact school performance. Other tips for brain-building toys by age include:

• Infants (under 1 year old) - toys where the child's touch creates sounds, flashing lights or other action; toys they can safely chew on; toys with mirrors, where they can observe facial expressions.

• Toddlers (1-3 years old) - toys they can ride on or climb on; balls to roll, catch, etc.; blocks or building-type toys; toys that encourage matching and sorting shapes, colors or objects; and, materials for playing with sand, water and other textures.

• Preschoolers (3-5 years old) - anything that encourages imaginative play, such as dress-up clothes or toys that mimic household items or tools; puzzles and simple games; art supplies including plain white paper, markers, crayons, finger paints, molding clay or dough, etc.

Which gifts to consider carefully? Toys or games that require a lot of time in front of the computer or television. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents keep kids under 2 as "screen free" as possible, including television, movies and video games. For older children, limited screen time is recommended.

"Screens can't replace people; and it's those powerful interactions with adults that help young children learn," Leyvas said. "Look for chances to read, talk, sing and play together - these will mean the most to a young child's learning and build lasting holiday memories."

And speaking of holiday memories, presents are not the only festive traditions that offer opportunities to help young kids learn. Holiday decorating offers an opportunity for children to learn about shapes and colors. Cooking or baking family favorites is a chance to learn about numbers and textures. And, singing along to holiday music and telling stories about prior holidays build vocabulary.

Reader Comments

Posted: Monday, April 28, 2014
Article comment by: Lisa Watson

Very nice post. You have explained very well which toy is suitable for which age group. Thanks for sharing such informative post with us.. Waiting for your next share.. Keep Writing!!!

Posted: Monday, November 25, 2013
Article comment by: Richard H.

I really like this column. I think computers, pads and smartphones have a lot to offer -- and children can certainly learn much from them and build skills -- but too often they become a substitute for real family interaction. Every child needs and deserves screen-free time with parents and siblings. The right toys can make this fun and will build lasting memories. There are some skills you cannot learn from a device with a screen.

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