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How to Choose Great Toys

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Whenever I'm asked about how to choose toys for kids, the first thing I do is look at my watch. There is never a quick answer to this question but we will always try. Often the conversation leads to what the child loves and what the child is “good at.” I think that both children and parents believe that a child is good at something because of natural-born talents.

To be sure, there is some truth to this. We've all seen it. A child plays with something for the first time and she looks like an expert by the end of the day. We make guesses about what she might study when she goes to college and what kind of job she might have. This is natural. But here is something else that is natural.

A child may be “good at” something not necessarily because of natural talent but rather what I like to refer to as “natural appreciation.” Take blocks for example, there might be something specific to blocks that she just adores and it is her adoration that motivates her interest and play. It may not always be a visual-spatial thing either. It also could be that she loves the feel of wood beneath her fingertips or she loves to stand up and maintain balance while stacking the blocks.

I think as parents, it is our role to help children build skills but also to build appreciation. We want children to learn to see the value in everything and to enjoy as many things as possible. Thus when I am asked about how to pick a toy for a child, I will ask the gift giver what that child enjoys doing.

Just as with our careers as adults, kids will enjoy doing what they love. Not everything will be easy but hopefully, within that job, there is some enjoyable element in there that keeps them motivated. The final result could mean that the child has developed new appreciations on top of the old.

Thus there is no easy way to answer this question but if you feel cornered, I do have some tips that can help:

  • Pick something similar to what they already have. If they love LEGO, of course, they will like more LEGO but if they love the building aspect of LEGO then encourage them to try building with something different. It’s all about allowing them to expand their views and skills by trying a different medium. Think about how trained musicians learn more than one instrument. The goal is to build overall appreciation in this type of play.
  • Pick something you love. Children love spending time with their parents and other adults. While a child might love a certain type of toy, most children will welcome playing with something new if it means spending more time with Mom and Dad. Additionally, parents will just have more fun because they like the toy or game. It's a win-win situation here. Kids can have a rare opportunity to appreciate the parents by understanding what makes them happy. They love knowing about what makes us tick.
  • Be a strategic shopper: If you are looking to help a child build a certain skill with which he has difficulty, toys can be excellent tools. However, it is important to note that this hopeful purchase should contain elements that the child already likes. If not, you are looking at likely refusal.
  • Forgive your explorations. Ever wonder why your kid doesn't like that one food that you think is so good for him? Take blueberries for example. You know your child loves yogurt, pie, and fruit salad. Thus, you offer blueberries in all these ways but no matter what, they don’t go past a couple of bites.

Unfortunately, we don’t get any instructions when our children are born. The only way to learn is the hard way, through trial, error, and reflection. However, since we are still talking about toys and play here, our journey of discovery will be full of fun and excitement.

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