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Value of Play

New Zealand Toy Safety

Why Play is Important
Play is the way children learn. Children with access to a wide range of well-selected toys are more likely to be challenged and stimulated. Studies find that they reach higher levels of intellectual development, regardless of their sex, race or social class.

Toys that stimulate mental development:

  • are appropriate for the child's abilities,
  • are responsive to the child's movements, and
  • provide feedback when manipulated.

Whether playing alone or with others, quietly or with enthusiasm, play is the way children explore their world and create imaginary ones.

Play – What good does it do?

Play is good for all senses and age groups. It combines a whole host of mental and physical benefits to individuals and families alike. Apart from just being enjoyable, it is:

  • Healthy
  • Educational
  • Sociable
  • Recreational
  • Great for family bonding
  • Fun!

Psychologists have identified numerous ways that play helps childhood development. It enhances:

  • Thinking power
  • Mental fitness
  • Practical knowledge
  • Personal & emotional well-being
  • Physical development
  • Social skills

As a child we bet you didn't realise how much good you were doing yourself just by playing!

Make Time to Play – Fun & Play with Toys
The most important message of this section is to encourage you to make time to play. Parents and grandparents should remember that 3 factors assist kids get the most from play:

  • Create a safe, secure environment for play.
  • Let kids be free to direct their own play.
  • A wide variety of toys permits many types of play (rather than a few expensive toys).

As a parent you can provide ideas and time to play, join in games already under way and show how much fun play can be. Use toys as props how and when you want to.

Learning new skills

Even in reaching for a toy your baby develops early hand/eye coordination, strength, balance and agility. Activity centres, block letters, shape sorters and games will help your child learn many new skills. Toys and games that are used with playmates encourage sharing, cooperation and communication. Blocks and models will foster spatial play, whilst jigsaws, dominoes, puzzles and board games are for logical play. Balls and push/pull toys are used in physical play, and verbal play accompanies books and word games.

Children use dolls, action figures, costumes and puppets for imaginary play. Research shows that through play children learn how to plan and solve problems. Play encourages them to develop language and communication skills and to use imagination and creativity.

Playful children are happier, better adjusted, more cooperative and more popular with their peers than those who play less. Children play longer when a wide variety of toys is available. It is not necessarily the most expensive toys that provide the greatest stimulation and enjoyment. It is better to have four or five different toys than one very expensive one.

Ages and stages of play

Children differ enormously in their rate of growth and development, so toys should keep pace with children’s changing needs and ability levels. As a parent, be sensitive to the interests, abilities and limitations of your children in deciding when they are ready for their first puzzle, book, bike or computer game. Here are some guidelines on the types of toys best suited for different stages of development.

A baby’s first toys are important in teaching about size, shape, colour and texture. In one study, the availability of toys in infancy was strongly related to the child’s IQ at the age of three. During the first year, an infant will respond to bright colours and gentle sounds. Musical toys and mobiles are ideal at this age. Babies find it difficult to co-ordinate their hand and eye at first, so they learn about the shape and feel of objects with their mouths. As they gain control over their hand movements, an activity mat is great for exploring textures and shapes.

Half the waking hours of a typical 17-month old are devoted to play, so a variety of toys is essential. They will enjoy toys that move, such as mobiles and rattles. Children begin to enjoy pretend play, so toys that stimulate imagination, such as play sets, toy vehicles, soft toys and puppets, are also popular. Blocks will challenge their imagination and dexterity. An active toddler will need toys for physical play; toys they can sit on or push and pull. Toys that respond to the child’s movements will hold attention, important for reading. Children play for a longer period of time when there is a greater variety of toys available.

3-5 years
Pretend play is the child’s way of trying out new skills and growing interests. Puppets are a great way to develop language. As children gain confidence and social skills they enjoy play with other children. Role playing and fantasy games help their social and emotional development. Children like realistic toys that resemble people and everyday objects, such as dolls, action figures, tool sets and household items. They also like construction sets, painting, musical toys and cassette players. Active play on swings, slides, climbing frames and toy vehicles encourages physical co-ordination and will help them to progress onto tricycles and bicycles. As they develop logic and are able to concentrate longer, they are ready for games with rules like lotto, matching games and dominoes. Memory and imagination can be exercised with electronic toys, board games, basic puzzles and word games.