Choosing the best toys for kids can be fun. But beyond fun, toys offer children a whole host of learning experiences. To help kids develop, grow and learn, it is important to provide them with learning toys that best meet these developmental needs.

Here are ten tips, based on stringent criteria, from LearningToys.ca, to help you pick out the best learning toys for kids:

  1. Look at every toy as a learning tool. When choosing a toy, consider the child’s potential learning experience while playing with this particular toy. Does it encourage skills that are valuable to the child at this stage?  Is it the best toy for the child at this age?
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  2. Make sure it is fun to play with. Children are naturally attracted to toys that can teach them something.  If a learning toy is also fun, a child will want to play with it more often and for longer periods of time - the best of both worlds.
  3. Choose the correct level of complexity. Help children build confidence and self-esteem by choosing toys to help them feel successful. The best toys will have a level of difficulty that is challenging enough to require some effort, but not so difficult as to be frustrating or intimidating. Remember, a little work on their part results in a greater sense of accomplishment. And determination to succeed is greatly enhanced when a child feels confident about their chance of success. As they get older, they will learn to stick to a task until it is completed even when difficult.
  4. Match toys with the child’s interests. Children’s preoccupations differ. Some kids love to make believe, turning every toy and object into something else. Others are focused on the real world, wanting to do ‘real’ things with ‘real’ tools. Still others are fascinated with how things work - absorbing every detail and tidbit of information, dismantling toys and objects to try to better understand the world around them. Knowing a child’s interests will help you to choose the best toys.
  5. Consider the child’s attention span. Kids who can sit and draw or do puzzles for hours may need some encouragement to get outdoors and be active. On the other hand, if the child is as busy as a little bee and rarely sits still, initially introducing quiet activities that take only a few minutes to do, and gradually presenting some that are more time-consuming, will help develop the child’s ability to concentrate. Keep in mind that it is completely normal for young children to have short attention spans. Attention spans increase naturally as a child develops.
  6. Encourage independent play. Some of the best learning toys are those that children play with on their own. As kids play and figure things out on their own, they not only develop independence, they also learn to solve problems, creating a sense of satisfaction and pride. Puzzles and building blocks are ideal for developing independent play.
  7. Select open-ended toys that a child can play with in several different ways. Toys that allow for open-ended play help children develop creative thinking and imagination and keep children interested for longer periods of time. Discovering new ways of playing with an old toy can sometimes be as much fun as getting a new one.
  8. Help children develop social and communication skills. Look for learning toys that promote cooperation, sharing, and turn-taking. For little ones it may be toys that encourage any kind of group play. For older children these valuable skills are easily encouraged with board games.
  9. Promote fitness and overall health. Toys that get kids moving and burning energy are exhilarating. Developing confidence in their muscle strength, coordination and balance gives kids a leg up when attempting unfamiliar physical tasks.
  10. Keep other family members in mind. Is there a baby or toddler in the house? If so, watch out for toys consisting of small parts. Are there other children that may want to join in on a group game or activity? Do Mom and Dad have time to help with instructions or provide guidance to accomplish a particular creative project? Choose games and learning toys that take family dynamics into account.
  • About the Author: Judi Meade is a partner in LearningToys.ca and Toy Buyer. With a background in early childhood education and many years of toy retailing, she has helped many families choose the best learning toys for the kids in their lives. She believes that play - with toys that allow kids to explore, discover and learn - is essential to their well being and development.

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