For kids, imagination is a skill that needs practice every day. Play is children’s important work. Creative play is essential to children’s social and cognitive development, and toys can offer great opportunities to encourage it.
But when it comes to encouraging free and unfettered play, not all toys are created equal. As the holidays approach, Highlights magazine editors have tips for those looking for gifts that will encourage creative play.
1. Look for toys that can be used in a number of ways. There’s a reason the stick has made it into the National Toy Hall of Fame. It can be a wand; a pencil; a dividing line; a baseball bat. The best gifts for creativity are ones for which you wouldn’t say: “You’re doing it wrong!” Building toys (not kits) are great. A set of magnets in various colors can be arranged to make thousands of shapes, while a color-by-number set has only one “correct” way to complete its task.
2. Look for toys that match your child’s developmental stage and skill level. It is wonderful to be challenged and to learn new skills, but if a toy has a standard for success that is very far out of reach for a child, it can be frustrating. A cross-stitching kit can be a lot of fun for a child new to textile arts. Even better is giving the materials—without a prescribed pattern— to a child who is still developing skills as a chance to build his or her confidence.
3. Listen to what your child takes interest in and select gifts that follow those interests. Ask her what she finds interesting about her favorite things. If she likes a sculpture in the park, ask why. If it’s because of the way the artist created folds in the fabric out of stone, she may find 3-dimensional art fun to try. If it’s because of the pigeons on it, she may have more compelling interests elsewhere.