Finding Purposeful Toys for Meaningful Play

“Play is how children learn best.” This is a statement that we are hearing more and more, but do we pause and think about the toys our children are playing with, and how their learning is being encouraged by playing with a particular toy?

Many parents consider toys to be tools with which they keep their children entertained. While the “entertainment factor” should certainly be a consideration when choosing toys, it can be far more important to adequately assess the needs of one’s children, and to purchase toys that provide appropriate developmental benefits for those needs. But how?

I recently invited Debbie from the new online toy shop Sensational Kids to share some of her thoughts about the importance of play in our children’s lives and how to equip parents with tools to help them assess the needs of their children, as well as the appropriateness of the toys their children will be playing with.

Debbie made this a bit easier by breaking down a list of developmental skills down into seven key areas:

Seven Key Developmental Skills

These are the seven key developmental skill areas that our children need to focus on:

gross motor
fine motor
social & emotional

The best toys are generally those that encourage play and learning in multiple key developmental skill areas. At Sensational Kids, we use these seven key developmental areas as a basis for assessing each and every toy we sell, and provide this information on the website to help guide you to make a “just right” toy purchase.

Assessing a Toy

Some of the principles upon which we base all our assessments are the following: the manufacturer of the toy – ensuring that they make high quality, long lasting products that can be purchased at affordable prices. Many toys are cheap junk, moderately priced but poor quality, or overpriced for the benefit one might derive from them.

We consider what we call the “extension of play” potential that each toy has. We think that prolonging a toy’s life span maximises learning potential, reduces cost and is good for the environment. We take each product and outline some unique extension activities to help provide parents with fun ideas to extend the lifespan of that toy.

The process we follow when conducting an assessment of a toy is best illustrated using two examples:

Learn to Dress Monkey by Alex Toys
We love this cool dude. Not only is he cute and cuddly – offering a variety of sensory touch experiences – but making friends with him helps develop social and emotional skills such as attachment and caring. His clothes help children develop fine motor skills by practising to button, snap, hook and loop, buckle, tie, zip and more. Important self care skills are encouraged as monkey’s overalls, t-shirt, socks and shoes are removable for learning opportunities of how to dress and undress. The cognitive skills of planning how to dress and undress this monkey are very valuable in addition to the perceptual skills of considering front versus back of clothing, tying laces and fastening buttons. This toy is a wonderful example of being much more than just a cute and cuddly toy.



bean_bags Big 5 Bean Bags from Beautiful Creatures
Bean bags are an age-old classic toy that most children encounter at some stage whilst growing up. These Big 5 Bean bags however, take play and learning to the next level. Each bean bag is a different colour with the name written onto it, which assists with basic colour identification and later on as the child gets older, can help with letter recognition and spelling. In addition, each one is made from a different texture fabric to promote a variety of tactile sensory experiences. There are also bold clear pictures of a big 5 animal on each bean bag to help with animal identification. After mentioning all this, you would be forgiven for forgetting what bean bags are actually used for! Of course, the gross motor and eye-hand coordination benefits of bean bag activities are numerous, and just require a little bit of fun and creativity to encourage hours of fun and exercise.

sk_logo With a basic understanding of the importance of play and the seven key developmental skills outlined previously, I hope you will feel empowered to apply our assessment techniques to your own toys. If you would prefer to leave it up to us, on you will find all the information you need to confidently choose developmentally and age appropriate toys for the children in your life – toys that are of a high quality but remain reasonably priced.

About the Author
Debbie Mobbs is the founder and director of Sensational Kids. She has over 10 years of experience as a paediatric occupational therapist (OT) and is an energetic mother of two young boys. With Sensational Kids she is combining her love for being a mom with her career passion of helping people as an OT.


Kathryn Rossiter

Kathryn is a South African lifestyle blogger and mom of 2 who has been blogging daily for over 9 years! She writes about travel, health, beauty, fashion, decor and family... but not food (unless it's food she's eaten made by someone else) as she is a hopeless cook. She only wakes up early for 2 things... a red-eye flight to somewhere exotic and early morning game drives. She has just finished an extensive home renovation and would prefer to never see another box again. She's never met a chocolate or glass of bubbles that she didn't like!

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