Children are typically ecstatic for shiny new toys. Even adults in today’s society are eagerly waiting for the newest model of cell phone or tablet, willing to throw our perfectly good devices in the garbage in order to satisfy our desire for the next best thing. The difficult challenge parents and educators face with toys is similar: by the time a new toy has been opened and the box and twist ties have been deposited in the trash can, our children are already searching for something else they want. Attention spans are dwindling and parents are having a difficult time maintaining hyperactive minds for more than a few minutes. For parents who aren’t willing to buy a new toy every time they visit the grocery store, this creates quite the predicament.
Children are initially excited about their new toys but they tend to lose interest in them when the games they play become redundant. Instead of wasting money, invest in open-ended toys that serve more than one function. Open-ended toys do not include a set of instructions or a how-to manual. They are created with the notion that children’s imaginations set the boundaries of what toys can and cannot do, not the other way around. Blocks, arts and crafts, musical instruments, dress-up toys, and dollhouses are examples of toys that require effort. These items don’t play for you, they require imagination and cooperation, ultimately leading to cognitive development, shape recognition, an exchange of ideas, and questions about concepts that would otherwise be unexplored. Children who use open-ended toys in a group are found to have better social skills because they develop respect for the work of others, learn to cooperate and negotiate, and are given a sense of self-confidence by their peers. Open-ended building toys are proven to increase a child’s mathematical development, cognitive skills, and their ability to understand language.
Speech pathologists recommend open-ended toys like wooden blocks to encourage imaginative play and language for children. Children build skyscrapers for their cars and corrals for their ponies, and while they play, they use language and incorporate problem-solving techniques. Young children who are just developing the ability to form words are highly recommended to play with blocks and arts and crafts. Older children with limited vocabularies can benefit from the same toys because they use them in different ways, expanding their ability to form complex sentences and widening their vocabularies. The opportunities for language development are almost endless because open-ended toys don’t consist of one right or wrong answer. The foundations of language lead to successful reading and writing skills, allowing children who were raised with open-ended toys to thrive in an educational system that is so heavily dependent on literacy.