Toy buying guide – buy this, not that

I spend a lot of time with children. I have play tested all of toys on the market and I have my favorites. Often times I find parents want to buy the biggest, coolest looking thing for their child, only to find it gathering dust the next week. These are my alternate suggestions to toys that are bought with good intentions.

1. Lego blocks set vs. Lego kit

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Ages: 4-14

Legos are awesome. Lego kits are awesome.  I wish I had a Star Wars Death Star. But I’m an adult who has patience and can sit still for more than 5 minutes.

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Retail Value – $399.99

 

I’m not saying that Lego kits aren’t amazing. It’s unbelievable what’s available. Also, there is value in child being able to follow directions and recreate something. The books have no words and the pictures are clear. They dumb it down as much as possible.  And that’s my point. It’s simple direction following. It doesn’t  inspire or develop imagination.
Free play with Legos means a child can create his own inventions, instead of recreating someone else’s. There is experimenting with form and function with a real tactile experience. The replayability is truly endless. When they are young it might be just a garage or house. As they get older they experiment with more complex forms like cars and rockets.

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Actual Lego instructions from way-back-when

 

2. Plastic fruit vs. Plastic kitchen

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Ages: 2-6

 

Kitchen playsets are adorable. The are mini versions of our adult dream kitchens. They are toys for us adults to buy to dream of what we want. They are fun for children, but they don’t see them with the same eyes as we do. They like to open the drawers and hide stuff inside. They use the table tops, but often times it’s for any and all of their toys. It stops being a kitchen and becomes a small surface to gather junk.

I prefer the cheap plastic food sets like fruit. For younger ages, they are great for learning letters (a is for apple). They can make their own kitchen with they toys they already have or even just the couch. You can make a market out of blocks and use play money to teach about buying and selling. Children’s imaginations are made to fill in the gaps. They don’t need literal representations of things to play. A pen can be an airplane, and a bed can be a fort. But a plastic kitchen, will always be a plastic kitchen.

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Play on, future consumer!

 

3. Soft blocks vs. alphablocks

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Ages: 1-4

 

There is a rush to get children reading and writing, as if their success in adulthood is dependent on a child learning to read at age 2. Parents buy wooden blocks (or practically anything) with letters on them in hopes that this subtle exposure will give their child a head start in learning. IT DOES NOT. There is no shortcut to teaching your child to read and write.

So instead, buy what children really want. For the first few years, what they want is to destroy. The only reason for building a tower is so you can knock it down. Why fight it? It’s a fun game that honestly, I kind of enjoy too. I like the soft blocks because they are house / baby / mom – proof. They are practically weightless. You can throw them right at your child’s face and they will just giggle. They won’t break lamps or leave scratches. They squish and are easy for little hands to grab. They are great for stacking to make big towers that topple down. And they’ve got pictures of stuff on them so you can use them to teach when your child is actually paying attention.

4. Balls vs.  Baby play sets

balls

Ages: 0-3

 

Baby sets that have bright colors and things that click and crunch and ding are awesome. Look at all the stuff my baby can do. So you spend a lot of money, come home, and leave the baby in front of it and walk away. Your baby doesn’t touch it. She just watches you and cries for you to come back.  When you sit and play with her, the toys come alive. She squeals and glees at all the different sounds you make. You feel happy and walk away. Baby cries for you to come back.

The moral of the story is: you are a baby’s best toy. Toys are just ways you play with baby.

The best baby playset in the world still cannot do all the things a ball can do. You can roll a ball, bounce a ball, throw a ball. There are small balls that bounce off of ceilings and walls, bunches of little balls to roll around in, big rubber balls that you can slap with your hand, footballs that roll on the floor. Textured balls are great for rolling under your feet. You can catch a ball with your hands or you can catch it with your feet. You can kick it. You can hit it. And you can do it all with Mom and Dad.

5. Play Doh vs. Art kits

playdoh

Ages: 2-13

 

The big art sets are eye catching. So many colors, and in every medium. 100+ pieces! Every tool you’d ever need to be the most talent artist ever. All in a convenient travel case to carry with you on your world adventures.

The reality is you get a cheap, poorly made case. The crayons, pencils, and paint are worse quality than anything you could buy separately. Chances are you already have crayons, pencils and paint of better quality and variety. When you open the case everything either falls out or is permanently encased in a cheap plastic mould. All aspirations of being the next great artist are dashed when you realize you can’t buy talent.

If you want to inspire a child artistically, I recommend Play-Doh, the Legos of squishy material. I don’t mean a Play-Doh like substance like plasticine that is hard for small fingers to manipulate or organic green-Earth all natural material play substance that smells like compost. I mean Play-Doh, the non-toxic toy that comes in every color imaginable and has its own perfume.

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Please don’t buy this.

 

Kids can smash it, roll it out, mix it, make spaghetti and snowmen. They can share with mom and trade cutting tools. They can make a mess and clean it up. They can accidentally leave it out to dry and learn the lesson of taking care of their toys. Then you can buy some more.

6. Pots, pans, and spoons vs. Music sets

music

Ages: 0-3

 

There are some neat music sets for children that include tambourines, recorders, castanets, and xylophones. I plan on owning all of them. But I’m not going to start with them. Before I teach about musical instruments, I like to show there are sounds all around us. There is so much to be learned by banging a wooden spoon on everything in the house. Or beating two metal spoons together. Or blowing on bottles.

Your world is already full of interesting and new things that your child doesn’t know about. Pots and pans, empty jars and cans. Glass, metal and wood all sound different. Don’t rob them of the experience of discovery by making a beeline straight for the musical instruments.

For everything else

The best toys are the ones that engage you and your child. They inspire and enrich the imagination. If a toy is highly detailed or movie licensed, there’s not much room for your child’s imagination to grow. Toys that are multipurpose have the highest replay value. Be wary of sets – it’s how manufacturers hide shoddy products. Remember, you are buying for your child, not for you. Most of the time.

Rhythm Sticks

Again, the Jbary ladies have another great song using Rhythm Sticks. Here they use the same song from This is the way… except using different action verbs with the sticks. Easy to learn, fun to do, and even the children can come up with their own verses.

Their ideas came from Kendra at: http://klmpeace.wordpress.com/2012/12/06/toddler-storytime-rhythm-sticks/

This blog entry is worth a read. She explains very well the different activities and songs that can combined with rhythm sticks. Being in Russia, I often have to make do with out many things. We take for granted how easy it is to buy supplies in America.So for these songs I am using pencils. They aren’t as long, as thick or have that great wood sound like these sticks. But, they are still fun to beat on things.

Muzzy – I’ve got…

A very simple phrase… I’ve got… It’s construction at its heart is very different from the Russian equivalent. I teach grammar through use instead of through rules. We take a common phrase and practice using it in simple context. Later the student will add to it and one day will understand the grammar rules that define it. Here we use Present Perfect. I couldn’t even begin to explain why. And I don’t have to.

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This worksheet doesn’t have any exercises. All that is done in conversation and play. I use my box of plastic toys. We each taking turns grabbing an item and saying, I’ve got a … 

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If I do need extra practice, or if the student is of capable age, I have them write the answers. Again, I use Donna Young’s website for handwriting paper, depending on the student.

Directions

Left, Right, Forward, Back

4 simple commands, and great chance to do something fun.

Teaching the directions is straight forward. I use my arms and point in the 4 directions. There have been a few times where the concept of direction is new to my student, even in their native language. Sometimes it doesn’t quite stick. But it doesn’t matter.  The game is so fun that the student is eager to catch on.

What I use for this lesson: wooden blocks of various shapes, plastic animals, a toy car

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For this lesson, I use my wooden blocks. The child builds a city of towers and bridges.  I help keep things everything straightened and make roads between the buildings wide enough to “drive” a car through.

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Then I give the child driving directions through the city to find my animal of choice. I have fun with it and have them drive their car through all of the fun obstacles they built. Then they get the chance to tell me where to drive.

Talking about Sports

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The kids love this lesson.  I start by handing them a ball: large, bouncy, not hard or heavy.  And command them through the following verbs:

to throw
to catch
to hit
to kick
to run
to punch
to jump
to bounce
to dribble
to shoot
to score
to miss
to swing
to call
to foul
to pass
to ride
to skate
to ski
to tackle
to tie
to win
to lose
to race
to play
to cheat

I use my handheld white board to show things like to win/to lose.  I test them after several repetitions. What this means, whatever room we are in gets destroyed by a bouncy, happy kid and a ball 🙂 The above is fine for younger children.  For older children, we move on…

To the nouns of sports, again using the whiteboard:

ball
bat
glove
uniform
net
hoop
bench
goal
base
court
field
football
helmet
referee
racket
stick
puck
ring

Then after they understand the key vocabulary I describe the impossible-to-understand sport of baseball, again using the whiteboard and the vocabulary they just learned. I don’t expect them to understand how to play, but I want them to hear the words “hit” and “bat” in use.

Then I give them the whiteboard and have them explain to me their favorite sport using the vocabulary we just learned.

from englishwsheets.com


An extension to this lesson is reading about Sports Combinations from busyteacher.org

 

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