PLAY is a child’s work, it’s their main occupation and how they learn,” says paediatric occupational therapist Aine Keighran.
But you can’t push a child to learn. When looking for toys this Christmas, parents need to focus on age first. “Ask what they should be doing at that age in terms of motor development, sensory development and social development and then get them toys that can develop those skills,” says Keighran.
From birth, babies are learning about the world around them, mainly through sensory development as parents, feed, cuddle and talk to them.
“Babies love to look at things, so go for toys with nice bright colours,” says Keighran. “Everything will go into their mouth, so toys should be soft and multi-textured and early co-ordination skills are developed by turning toys over and passing them from hand to hand.”
As babies begin to move, it’s important to get them down on the floor and on their tummies to develop core muscles.
“Even something as simple as crawling over beanbags will develop hip and shoulder stability,” Keighran says. Pushing, pull-along and ride-on toys are a fun way to develop co-ordination, balance and body awareness.
Cause-and-effect toys will delight your toddler. “Blocks of any kind are a great toy at this age. Stack them up, knock them over, it’s all about making sense of what you see and hear, learning to differentiate between sizes and shapes and sounds, discovering why and what if.”
Older toddlers begin to integrate visual and motor skills, develop emotionally and learn social skills like turn-taking and sharing through creative play. At this age it’s important to provide opportunities for role play and open-ended toys that can be played with in lots of ways, encouraging toddlers to combine different toys in their toybox to create new games and stories.
Regardless of what toys they have, parents are the child’s most important teacher and role model.
“Spending time on the floor, rough housing, make and & do, playing with a ball are far more important, though parents often doubt their abilities and can put enormous pressure on themselves as regards presents,” Keighran says. “Love, time and fun are the most important learning tools.”
* Aine Keighran is a paediatric occupational therapist at the Stepping Ahead Clinic, Cork.
The award-winning Irish toy, BB bear, from Galway’s B•bógbaby, teaches toddlers 33 words of Irish. BB is soft, cuddly and has the voice of a child; press the bright buttons and the teddy responds with the words for numbers, colours and shapes. English and other languages, available.
BB bear, €29.99, age 6months +, www.babogbaby.com
Little ones will love pretending to hit the road and develop balance, with this vintage-style, rocker motorbike from the new Leigh Tucker Willow creative play range at Dunnes Stores.
Leigh Tucker Willow rocker, in pink or blue, age 3+, €40, www.dunnesstores.com
This colourful, wooden flower has clicking petals. Lay them one way to display rainbow colours, flip them over to change to a pattern of yellow and white. Perfect for developing visual awareness and hand-eye co-ordination.
Melissa & Doug Flapping Flower, age 9 months +, €10.95; www.mimitoys.ie
Turn the handle of the study tin-box and you hear “pop goes the weasel”. As soon as the plush toy comes out of the box, toddlers just want to close the lid and do it again.
Jester Jack In The Box, 18 months +, €18.95, www.mimitoys.ie
This gorgeous little pram, from Danish company, Moover, helps to develop empathy and social skills. It also has shock-absorbing rubber wheels to cushion speed (and potential furniture damage), while your little one develops motor skills at their own pace.
Moover doll’s pram, €79.99, age 2 +, www.littleones.ie
Everyone loves train-sets and young builders will learn counting skills, while creating their own todder-friendly train, with this set from LEGO Duplo. The name ‘LEGO’ is an abbreviation of two Danish words, “leg godt“, meaning “play well” and, true to its name, provides endless opportunities for creative play, while developing motor and problem-solving skills.
LEGO Duplo Number Train, age 2+, €16.49, www.toys.ie
The Puky LRM balance bike is a learner bike for the smallest starters. Suitable from 20 months, balance bikes develop co-ordination and muscle tone. Neat enough for indoors, pop it into the car boot and take it to the park.
Puky LRM in red, blue, pink or kiwi, age 20m +, €82, www.balancebikes.ie
Dudley is a tough and chunky friction-powered truck with motorised tipping action. WOW Toys don’t require batteries and are made from colourful, PVC-free plastic, with lots of little characters and vehicles to encourage creative play.
Dudley dump truck, age 18m, £13.79 on Amazon; www.wowtoys.co.uk
This charming, two-tiered cake stand really makes learning fun. Fit the 15 cupcakes into the correct shapes on the stand, helping develop matching, counting and spatial awareness. Of course, the game can also be used as a tea set, perfect for role play.
Tidlo high-tea shape matching set. Age 3+ €29.95, www.litatleones.ie
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