Parents always want the best for their children and therefore strive to do the right thing to ensure their children’s growth and development. Experts say toys are one thing parents could use to foster brain development, but, do parents know what kind of role toys to use for this purpose?
Angela Kanyana has a three-year-old baby girl. She enjoys showering her with all sorts of toys, believing that they play a positive role in her welfare and growth.
“I started buying her toys when she was six months old. When I got her human dolls and rattles she was really entertained playing with them. I continue to buy her different types of toys to date. At times I let her choose the type of toy she wants,” she says.
Although Kanyana provides her baby with toys she doesn’t really know how they contribute to her development. She can’t tell which toy is beneficial or is appropriate to her age. And indeed, majority of parents have the same concern. Some even believe that a baby’s development doesn’t need any stimulation beside feeding or family background.
Experts in early child hood development say what occurs during the first five years of life can have an enormous impact on not only how well the baby’s brain develops, but how well that baby learns and grows throughout their lifetime. They also note that toys have been found to have a big role to play in the journey.
According to early childhood educators, toys stimulate a baby’s sense of touch, sight and hearing while also developing their imagination and dexterity. Therefore, babies who have been encouraged to play with the right toys have better muscle coordination, develop fine and gross motor skills faster, and hit their developmental milestones faster.
“Parents are advised to provide their babies with toys such as music boxes, rattles, or toys that squeak or play music when pressed. The sense of sound helps your baby develop their language skills and thought processes. When a baby observes that the toy makes a sound when pressed or shaken in a certain manner, they will be able to deduce patterns of cause and effect,” says Yvette Isimbi, a teacher at Blooming Buds Nursery School in Kigali.
Isimbi adds that the reason children’s toys are colourful is because colour is a great stimulus for their brains.
“Colourful toys hanging in the room help stimulate your baby’s sense of sight. Once their sense of sight improves, it will serve to motivate your baby to interact more and more with their surroundings,” she says.
On the other hand, Grace Ayebale, a nursery teacher at Kigali Parents, says when children play with other children it is critical for the development of social skills.
“As they play they learn to cope with frustration, to try to improve, to share with others, and to give vocal expression of their thoughts and fantasies. We as teachers are enabled to identify individual behaviour or character during this interaction. For instance, a child may act aggressively to keep the toy to himself and what we do is to approach him and teach him that it is bad to be selfish or unsocial. Parents also can do the same to learn about different characters of their children by introducing them to group plays using toys,” she says.
Pierre Nzeyimana, the early childhood officer at the UNICEF Rwanda, argues that children love to play and toys are among the things they can’t do without. Babies begin to play from the womb and when they are born their life needs that same lifestyle to thrive.
“Some parents think that they need to buy toys, but some simple household utensils can serve that purpose without spending extra money. Toys can also be homemade. For instance, dolls can be made from old clothes, balls made from banana leaves or colourful paper toys to hang inside the child’s room,” he says.
Importantly, Nzeyimana says for the toys to be beneficial to children, both parents should be playmates as interaction is critical in the process.
“Fathers tend not to think they have anything to do with playing with their children but they need to change and create some space to help their children learn though play .You can buy thousands of toys for your child hoping to help them grow, but if you can’t be involved as parents toys alone can’t do much,” he advises.
Nzeyimana adds that toys are more than just playthings, and while they should be fun, they should also be age appropriate, stimulating and safe so they don’t frustrate your child.
Infants, he says, are most interested in movement and sound, so shaking a rattle or a key ring will stimulate them. As they get a little older, textural toys they can touch and squish in their hands, are so helpful to strengthen their muscles and improve stability.
Choosing age-appropriate toys
Children enjoy toys that they can master and that are right for their particular stage of development.
Nzeyimana gives some suggestions for the types of toys kids benefit from most as they go through different stages:
For 0-6 months, he says children need to develop senses. Parents often wonder whether their babies are following their movements, and if not, when they will start doing so. Once your baby starts reaching for the toys, he will develop hand to eye coordination.
“Age-appropriate toys for babies include: rattles, busy boxes, and anything they can begin to grasp, swipe at, pull, kick, squeeze, or shake,” he says.
Nzeyimana says between 6-12months, babies can hold small toys.
“They are learning about cause and effect and they will repeat activities over and over in order to master them. Here, parents can assist by naming different
objects in their house. They also like to transfer toys from hand to hand and into and out of containers. Here cups can be used for filling with some seeds or other things that can be poured,” he says.
For children aged 12-24 months, Nzeyimana notes that this is the time to introduce dress-up dolls, kitchen sets and toy cars, trucks, and school buses.
“Also parents can start reading books for them or they can use a photo album and help identify different people in the photos. They can also introduce them to the environment; they can walk them and help them to learn new things such as different types of flowers, trees or animals. By doing so, you give your child a good foundation for better school learning,” he says.
Nzeyimana says between 3 -5 years, is the category for school-going children. They need toys that introduce them to basic mathematics, body parts and the alphabet.
“Children also make huge gains in both fine and gross motor skills throughout this period, so puzzles, blocks, and other construction toys are perfect age-appropriate toys. They need also out-door activity, so you can give them basket balls, footballs, seesaws or swing machine. This helps them to strengthen their muscles,” he says.