Toys: A Way to Teach, Interact … and Have Fun by Stan Collins

In an interview recently, retired General Colin Powell stressed that the years before a child starts kindergarten are a critical part of the educational process. “If they’re not on a knowledge level with the rest of the class, they’re behind, and are always trying to catch up. It’s the parent’s role to help build that knowledge level.

How?  What do we do?

Let me suggest toys as one vehicle to help strengthen the learning process.

Think about it. When you’ playing with children, there’s plenty of back and forth communication—a key step in learning.

There’s a sharing of experiences—playing with the train or cars or trucks table, tossing a ball back and forth, seeing who wins the board game, playing make-believe with dolls or soldiers, or reading together.

The good news is that an increasing number of toys are designed to combine a fun time with an educational experience.

With an alphabetical train floor puzzle there’s fun finding all the pieces and educational action as you put the letters in sequence. You can build on that by using the train letters to spell out words.

A shape sorter clock will help the child learn which hour number goes in which spot. Or you can stimulate learning by positioning the hands of the clock to different hours of the day. Teach a little math by adding or subtracting hours or minutes.

Moving to an older age level, one creative company has developed a series of vehicles that are to be taken apart and put back together. You can explain how vehicles work as you help them find the different parts.

Playing with kitchen and cooking toys provides a great math opportunity as you add items to your shopping cart and then both of you figure out how much things cost and how much money you’ve got.

Word building and storytelling toys and games add to the child’s spelling and vocabulary. Science toys turn into learning toys.

Kids love this fun/learning combo. Their minds are like quicksand—they absorb everything, even though it sometimes doesn seem that way.

 As “kids” get older and “more sophisticated” they sometimes develop an attitude that a board game or some other toy, for example, may be too young for them. Interestingly enough, once they start playing they usually discover that they’re having a good time.

The early years are critical in the learning process. Parent participation is another essential. Careful toy selection enables you to have a toy that generates both a fun and a learning experience. Mix toys and parent interaction and you’ve got a winner.