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How to choose learning toys for your child

There are a lot of ways to keep children entertained. How can you tell which toys help your children learn at the same time? Well, learning toys teach babies and toddlers new skills. That doesn t always refer to their ABCs or numbers, however. Here are a few things good learning toys do for children s development.

  • Help them express themselves creatively
  • Learn how to solve problems
  • Improve physical strength, grasping ability and hand-eye coordination
  • Teach them social skills, assist with pronunciation and word recognition
  • Increase their vocabulary

There are a wide variety of great toys that do this, while making kids smile at the same time. Deciding which ones are appropriate for your children involves a couple of factors, like their ages, interests and strengths, and your budget.

What age has to do with it

Kids are like sponges that soak in everything around them. They love to learn, but can t learn everything all at once. Here are some basic developmental milestones that help you plan for your baby or toddler s education.

1-12 months: Newborns are just starting to take in and recognize the world around them. Expose them to as many stimuli as possible they re more than happy to oblige because they re super curious at this age through the sense of touch, sight and sound. Toys featuring different textures like bumpy, smooth or rubbery colorful lights and interesting sounds attract their attention immediately.

  • Rattles
  • Bath toys
  • Teething toys
  • Fuzzy stuffed animals

12-24 months: Now kids learn to affect the world around them. Encourage that growth with learning toys like activity centers featuring surfaces with lots of buttons, levers, spinners and other moving objects stacking rings and shape sorters. Toddler-sized learning walkers give little ones a hand with walking, with more independence and confidence than a stroller.

2-3 years: This is the part when your kids start to pretend. They like to imitate the things you do and say, which is good for their development since it teaches them about culture, how to act and pronunciation, and also lays a basis for their budding personalities. Encourage their imagination with things that fit their fantasy world, like playroom kitchen sets and pans, dolls and dollhouses, and fun costumes. They can imitate mom or dad with pretend cell phones, cameras and laptops with push buttons.

3-5 years: This is age when children s quest for knowledge becomes insatiable. Give them a solid foothold for preschool and school with toys geared towards teaching numbers, letters and vocabulary, like an electronic keyboard. Picture books strengthen kids comprehension of everyday objects and places.

Helping build their personality

It doesn t take long for you to notice the things your children are interested in. Encouraging them to grow towards goals they like is good for their self-esteem and makes them happy too.

Sports: Once kids can walk, they can also learn to throw soft cloth baseballs, basketballs and footballs, or kick soccer balls. Toys designed for sports have handy nets so balls don t fly off, along with heavy-duty plastic rims or goal posts that let kids practice their aim. They offer a great boost to coordination, physical health and learning to get along with other kids.

Music: If you notice your son or daughter wants to be a rock star, opt for small-scale musical instruments like keyboards, guitars and drum sets. More resistant models stand up to toddlers no problem, and more authentic versions help school-age kids get a feel for the instrument.

Art: Budding Picassos can learn to draw and have fun with art using magnetic drawing pads. Basic pads let them trace black-and-white lines, while more advanced models let kids play with color too. Afterwards, there s no cleanup whatsoever. Non-toxic modeling clay encourages pre-school age kids to sculpt characters from their imagination.

What to look for in tablets and laptops

Tablets and laptops are a great way to supplement your child s education because they offer access to an unlimited supply of resources, applications and answers.

Damage-resistant: Tablets made specifically for toddlers offer more protection than customary tablets thanks to shock-resistant borders. Tablets with thick side grips make it easier for kids to hang onto them. Look for warranties that offer full replacement in case of accidents.

Parental controls: These let you keep your kids safe by controlling access to the Internet, limiting the apps they can use and for how long, and even setting a shut-off timer to make sure they get enough sleep at night.

Storage space: Some tablets have slots for extra memory cards, and others rely completely on internal memory. More internal memory means more room for applications, videos, pictures and music files. Common memory sizes range from 8GB to 32GB and sometimes higher.