14 Jan Some Thoughts on Toys
I always believe the best presents for children begin with ‘B:’ Books, Blocks and Balls. All can be enjoyed independently or with others, in many different ways.
I’ve named some favorite children’s books in previous articles. A few new ones found their way into my pile of gifts this past holiday season. Boy and Bot by Ame Dyckman is a cute book about friendship between two unlikely characters, and appeals to the 3-4 year old set. My 5 year-old grandson really enjoyed a new (short) chapter book called Diva and Flea (Mo Willems), about a streetwise cat and a homebound dog in Paris and how they became friends and encouraged each other to try new experiences.
Blocks can be used in ever-changing ways. Wooden unit blocks, cardboard “bricks” and smaller wooden blocks are all great to stimulate imagination, hand-eye coordination, and understanding of space and balance. I like blocks that don’t connect to each other better than those that do, although Legos, Duplos and others that “click” together are very popular. What I have noticed in observing my grandchildren, all of whom love to build, is that sets designed to build a specific object, like a superhero car, Star Wars fighter or Goldie Blox parade float, tend to be built once and then left on a shelf. But wooden blocks are open-ended and fascinate forever. Add different props, like plastic people, animals, cars, planes, etc. and your child can build something new every day. Add friends and more blocks, and they can create cities, zoos, farms, airports, anything!
And then there are balls… a child who loves to play ball can amuse him or herself for hours. Shooting a basketball, kicking a soccer ball, catching the rebound of a high-bounce ball thrown up on a roof, hitting a tennis ball against a wall, are childhood experiences that never get old. Again, add a friend or two and “having a catch” provides even more open-ended fun.
This holiday season introduced me to a new toy – not beginning with a B, not totally open-ended, but interesting anyway. Children are natural collectors. In the course of their elementary years, many children develop an interest in rocks. My grand-children have all done so. This Christmas, I bought, for a 5-year old boy and 7 year old girl, a set each of “Mine for Gems,” a Discover with Dr. Cool product available through Amazon. Ten different semi-precious gemstones are embedded in an “excavation brick” and the children dig them out using tools and a dust brush. It was the first gift presented to them, and they immediately set to work. For the next hour and a half, they excavated and then washed their gems with complete concentration, undistracted by the other presents awaiting them under the tree. The set comes with a guide to learn about each stone, and an activity book of puzzles, mazes and challenges. One warning: it is messy, as the dust from the excavation brick is hard to contain. Best done on a tarp or outdoors, but there was no stopping them that day. They loved comparing their finds, matching them to the guide and then showing them off to family and guests. “Mine for Gems” is an educational toy that delivers knowledge, skills and above all, fun. I definitely recommend it.
Marianne Riess is the former head of the Putnam Indian Field School in Greenwich, CT. She has 40 years of experience in working with young children.