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If I See One More ‘Educational Toy’, I’m Gonna Barf

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I was cleaning through my kid’s bookshelf the other day and found a few packs of flashcard we’ve had for years, taking up precious space in my already overstuffed 2 bedroom apartment. Later, I found a board game, which is designed to teach kids the alphabet. On the boxes of each, it says, “Makes Learning Fun!” I chucked both of them in a bag that is destined to go the charity shop, but then thought twice about it and now decided that we can cut them up to use for craft stuff. We’ve had them for years and never used them once.

Please tell me, what is so fun about flashcards and alphabet board games? Especially if you’re a kinestetic, hands on learner, which probably 99% of children under the age of 3 are.

Some board games are good. Like, you know, the ones that are fun. I vividly remember my favorite boardgames as a kid were Candyland and Operation. And, what could you possibly learn from those games? Oh wait… taking turns, winning and loosing, patience… Hey, maybe you can learn a lot of things from seemingly ‘non-educational‘ games.

Why can’t a toy just be a toy? Why does it need to be ‘educational‘ for it to have any value?

My girls can play for hours with dolls. They feed them boobies, change their clothes, change their nappies, put them in baby carriers and yell at me if I go into the bedroom while their doll is ‘sleeping‘. They role play and use their imagination all while they’re playing. Are they learning? Well if role playing an important member of society (a mother) isn’t important, then please tell me what is!

Let’s take their wooden train set with the magnetic train cars. When they use the train set, they’re engineering, designing, problem solving (for when the train runs off the track) and they’re learning about forces.

How about the toy car that runs down a track at a our local playgroup? From that, they learn about taking turns and some more simple laws of physics. Or what about having to control fast rc drift cars? They can learn hand-eye coordination and how to control things in a careful manner (obviously when they’re a little older!).

How about a ball? They’re learning coordination and why we have to be play carefully in the house, as opposed to when we’re out at the park. Situational awareness.

What’s wrong with doing a simple puzzle? Or, digging in the garden? Or, playing with a dollhouse? Or even playing about with a fidget toy (such as one on, if you’re not familiar)?

How about water play with plastic containers that can keep them entertained for literally hours (even my 5 year old still loves that). They’re learning about displacement and about how mad mummy can get when she slips and nearly kills herself on the wet tiles. Then, they learn how and why they need to clean up the messes that they make.

How much more educational can it get than allowing children to play with simple toys?

Just letting kids run around, getting exercise, is education in the making. Research has proven that kids who get lots of exercise are able to learn better.

And, how ’bout those ABC’s and 123’s? Tell me, honestly, how could a child NOT learn the numbers and alphabet? If you let them play, and give them access to learning whenever they want, it would be pretty hard… wait… damn near impossible for them to not eventually develop a natural curiosity to find out about words and numbers.

I’ve never ONCE sat down and discussed my 2 1/2 year old on her colors or shapes, yet she knows almost all of them. I never once sat down with my nearly 5 year old to try and teach her how to write, (actually I tried once and saw that it was useless). But, when she wants to send a letter to her friend, that we will post in the mail, you bet she’s bugging me how to spell the words she wants to write! She makes me play shop with her and we discuss money. It’s all happening through play based learning without any purpose made ‘educational toys‘ at all.

Toys don’t need to be more sophisticated in order for kids to ‘learn‘? Unless we’re afraid that children won’t learn their ABC’s if they don’t learn them when they’re 3 years old, reciting flash cards… But, let’s give our kids more credit than that.

There are some really awesome simple educational toys out there and I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with buying them. Some are actually amazing. But, for the most part, I think the best toys for young children are the ones that take imagination to use. Those are the toys that are worth investing in and are the ones that truly make learning fun.

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