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Toys That Teach

Kathryn L. Stout, B.S.Ed., M.Ed.
Published: December 1999
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Young children can learn a great deal as they play. Following are just a few items that can be used fairly independently by children from ages 3 to 6. Why not give gifts this Christmas that will also provide a strong foundation for later learning?

  1. Activities that develop eye-hand coordination (also referred to as visual-motor skills) help with handwriting and drawing.
  2. Activities that include patterns to follow will provide practice in visual discrimination (seeing differences) necessary to later reading.
  3. Activities that develop eye-hand coordination (also referred to as visual-motor skills) help with handwriting and drawing.
  4. Activities that include patterns to follow will provide practice in visual discrimination (seeing differences) necessary to later reading.

You can encourage a child to think critically by helping him identify the patterns he is copying. For example, he may have copied the pattern on a picture card or copied a model already on the peg board that uses six pegs in a pattern of red, yellow, red, yellow, red, yellow. Once it has been completed, ask him to continue by placing at least two more pegs. Does he choose red and then yellow? If so, he has identified the pattern in the model. If not, point out the pattern and then ask, "What color should you try next?"

Reading comprehension involves, among other things, the ability to recall and organize information. The following materials offer practice in those skills at a foundational level, and they're fun:

Critical thinking includes the ability to make associations. At the foundational level, children identify things that, in their experience, are associated closely with one another: paper and pencil, bucket and shovel, watering can and plant, etc. Some companies offer these in puzzle form. That is, a box contains several two-piece puzzles with one picture on each piece. The child knows the association is correct if the two pieces fit together. The Living and Learning catalog (below) lists the following two-piece puzzle sets:

Other sets are available with picture cards for the child to match, but because they are not puzzles, parent supervision is necessary.

In case you have difficulty finding any of the items mentioned, here are a few possible sources:

Classroom Resources catalog from National School Products 1-800-627-9393
Hach 1-800-624-7968
Hands on and Beyond 1-888-20-LEARN

Young children do require a great deal of supervision. But when they play with the materials listed above, parents can take a guilt-free break! Simply demonstrate how to use the items, and then maintain the appeal by storing them in an area that is visible to the children, but that requires permission before use. You can also establish quiet periods during the day in which you offer the children a choice of activities, including these. This type of play does make a difference.





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