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How to find the best toys for children

Play expert offers advice on toy shopping for the holiday season
Friday, December 9, 2016

Brigden at parkHatchimals: They’re the interactive toy eggs that hatch creatures of a variety of colors and styles that children can then raise through multiple stages of “life.” They’ve also been called “the hot toy of the holiday season that nobody can find” by The New York Times.

Caught in the middle of the frenzied and stressful holiday season, it can be difficult for shoppers to sift through the hype and flashy advertising to find toys that will keep a child’s interest long after the box is open and the initial novelty subsides.

Dr. Joanna Cemore Brigden, associate professor of childhood education at Missouri State University, is an expert on childhood play. Drawing from her research and personal experience, Brigden offers some practical tips for consumers shopping for toys this holiday season.

What to consider when selecting toys

There is often a running joke that children are more interested in the box than the toy itself. This is an indicator, says Brigden, of a child’s innate desire to create.

“The reason that the box is interesting to them is because they can do whatever they want with it,” said Brigden. “The toy is what it is, but the box could be anything that they want to create.”

The most important question to consider when purchasing a new toy, then, is “can a child manipulate and create something with this?”Child playing

“If my child could only have one toy, it would be blocks, because you can do everything with blocks,” said Brigden. “You can use them for math, literacy and so much more. Because the child is creating the situation, it becomes much more meaningful to them.”

Brigden says that the best toys can not only provide a fun and enjoyable experience for children, but can also encourage positive progress across all aspects of a child’s development.

“Play helps children to be fully-engaged, encourages them to feel in-charge and competent, and empowers them to try things and be risky,” said Brigden. “All of that happens when they are creating through play.”

Another important aspect to consider when toy shopping is the “player” themselves: What can a child do with the toy?

“I think most of the time when people go out and look at toys, they look at what the toy itself can do, but that’s not going to keep the child entertained,” said Brigden. “When children can manipulate and do different things with the toy, they will continue to play with it for much longer.”

Learn more about play

When in doubt, Brigden says to consider one final, simple question: What looks fun?

“Some people say that one of the great things about having kids is they get to be a kid again themselves — it gives them the chance to play again,” said Brigden. “Look for something both you and your child can be engaged in and enjoy.”

For more information, contact Brigden at 417-693-3886.

MISSOURI STATE MEDIA

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