PRESCHOOLERS AND EDUCATIONAL TOYS

This is a dramatic and creative age. Many conversations between preschool-age friends start with "Let's pretend...." Children become social. They become interested in playing with each other instead of preferring to play alone. Many toys become props for cooperative play.

Preschool-age children also are interested in active physical play. They have more control of their muscles at this age and this can be seen in the move from a tricycle to a two-wheel bike. Preschoolers also are increasingly curious about the world around them. They enjoy realistic toys such as farm and animal sets, grocery store prop boxes, model cars, and trains.

As hand coordination increases, so does the child's interest in simple construction sets and more difficult puzzles. They can manage more difficult creative projects, and enjoy cutting and simple sewing projects, in addition to the paint and play dough of earlier stages. Since children at this age also are busy learning to read and write, give them play equipment that encourages these interests.

You may notice that preschool children play with many of the same toys as toddlers, but do so in different ways. As a caregiver, encourage them to be creative and to experiment. There are fewer safety concerns in this stage, but sharp or cutting toys and electrical toys are still too dangerous.

IMPORTANCE OF TOYS

Games and toys certainly don't have to rob kids of their playing alone time. I believe games (the kind you purchase) and toys have little relevance to healthy child development. Play, however, figures prominently in healthy child development.

Play that is child-initiated, child-controlled, and open-ended allows and encourages children to process information and to make sense of their world. Any toys and games that help facilitate this mode of play are a plus. Child development professionals frequently express concern that kids don't spend enough time playing in mixed-age groups. Too much of a child's play time is spent in reactive play (video and computer games) as opposed to creative play. And not enough time is spent playing alone.

Psychologically, kids need and use playing alone as their means of taking stock of their thoughts and emotions. Being bored because adults aren't entertaining them is a common complaint among today's youngsters. Where is the incentive for kids to invent their own creative play if parents feel they must keep them entertained and busy all the time? Jump-starting kids creative play with some ideas can be helpful (for instance, playing treasure hunt outside just when it's starting to get dark). Let them use their imaginations.

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