Before I became a parent, whenever I had to buy presents for kids, I would usually look for the most “educational” ones. The ones that promised to teach kids their ABCs, 123s, and War and Peace in six languages. Okay, maybe not the last one, but definitely a host of other learning milestones. And while I still like getting those toys on occasion, I’ve been realizing lately that they aren’t the ones that foster creativity and imagination in my toddler. And so I began to research the best toys for intellectual development. I was surprised at what I found, and you may be, too!
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High-Tech is Not the Way to Go
We live in a very technology-oriented world, and so it has been assumed that high-tech gadgets and gizmos are the best way to raise an intelligent child. As it turns out, experts are agreeing that this may not be true.
- This article from WebMD explains why learning videos such as Baby Einstein might actually be doing more harm than good.
- Researchers from Kansas State University found that high-tech toys can actually hinder babies’ communication skills.
- Then there is this article from The Huffington Post that asks the question, “Are You Buying Toys That Stunt Your Child’s Brain?”
Those studying child development seem concerned with these high tech toys for a few reasons.
Many of these toys:
- Do too much for the child, so he/she doesn’t have to rely much on his/her own imagination and reasoning skills.
- Position the child as a passive recipient, and do not engaging the child’s senses or mind.
- Overstimulate the child.
- Replace human-to-human interaction with parents and siblings.
What Is Good for Intellectual Development?
So if high-tech is not the way to go, what is? What are the best toys for intellectual development?
After reading many articles and studies, here are some commonalities I am finding:
- Engage the senses
- Stimulate curiosity
- Present a problem or challenge
- Require problem solving or answering questions
- Are age-appropriate
- Follow your child’s development milestones
- Inspire creativity and imagination
- Can include other participants
The Best Toys for Intellectual Development
Based on my readings, as well as my own experience as a mother of a very active and very imaginative little boy, here is my recommendation for the best toys for mental stimulation:
Good ol’ fashioned building toys!
Benefits of Building Toys
- Improves both gross and fine motor skills
- Sharpens logic and reasoning skills
- Helps develop math and communication skills
- Improves creativity
- Fosters imagination
- Encourages interaction with others
- Enhances spatial awareness
- Builds focus and patience
- Helps develop problem solving skills
- Encourages kids to use their own minds and imagination rather than letting technology do all the work
My favorite thing about them is how versatile they are! I often use Aidan’s building toys to work on things like shapes, colors, counting, patterns, and sorting. He has a blast playing while he’s learning, and it offers us a chance for quality time. Double win!
Our Favorite Building Toys
My toddler has a LOT of toys. Too many toys, if you ask me. He is well-loved by family and friends. But we have noticed that it’s not the flashy toys or the high-tech toys that hold his interest past the initial novelty. It’s the simple ones. The ones he has to do all the moving and the talking and the manipulating. In fact, the individually-wrapped paper towels from Costco are his toys of choice right now, I kid you not.
We love watching Aidan play with his building toys and witnessing his imaginative play. The stories and dialogues he comes up with are both fascinating and hilarious! Here are a few of his favorite building toys:
Aidan absolutely loves these blocks! He spends hours using his creativity to transform them into buildings, bridges, train engines (he’s crazy about Thomas!), towers, ice cream cones & birthday cakes, garages for his cars, and anything else his little mind can conceive!
Aidan is just a bit young yet to build any complex structures, but he’s starting to get the hang of simple buildings. His daddy loves to build with him, so the Lincoln Logs offer a wonderful chance for some father-son bonding.
There’s a lot more that I could say about low-tech vs. high-tech toys, and I plan to do a post about technology in the future, but I hope this was enough to inspire you to do some research of your own.
I’ll leave you with this: sometimes the flashy, obvious choice simply isn’t the best choice. And sometimes old fashioned is old for a reason.
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