Time Out talks to Kidz Inc owner Petra Arzberger about choosing the best toys for your child's development
Kids have it easy. Their ‘job’, lucky devils, is simply to play. But it’s not all brainless folly you know; play is how they learn about problem-solving, about giving and taking and the complex nature of our environment. It’s exploration and discovery and how they relate to others.
‘Play is the magic at the heart of childhood,’ says Petra Arzberger, educator and owner of Kidz Inc toy store. ‘In these early years children learn all the fundamental basics that we will need throughout our lives.’
These days, we parents fret tremendously over the educational value of everything, but we shouldn’t forget the benefits of sheer, unadulterated fun. ‘It’s important that there’s no pressure on children to perform,’ says Arzberger, ‘that they are allowed to develop at their own pace. We all love to spend time with things that are fun and we enjoy doing. It encourages confidence and creativity.’ Some families are overrun with playthings, their cupboards bursting with all manner of bleeping, blinking and bouncing games. Others feel guilty because their brood’s toy box looks relatively bare. Don’t worry, Arzberger says. The emphasis is on quality – in an educational rather than cost sense – rather than quantity.
‘Focus on the toys your child already has and make sure you choose carefully which toys you buy. I believe it is better to have five good-quality toys with tremendous play value than a cupboard full of toys that a child may play with for five minutes and then discard,’ she says.
Yep, we’ve all been there: unveiling the latest gadgets and gizmos only for the birthday boy or girl to dump them in favour of the box and wrapping paper. Or you finally succumb and buy them the battery-guzzling gadget they’ve harped on about for months, which lies gathering dust as they batter away with a spoon and saucepan.
‘It’s easy for a child to become swamped with too many toys and choices, but their imagination may still be under-stimulated,’ says Arzberger. Young kids may appear to have the attention span of a gnat, but instead of splashing out on something new every time they appear to lose interest, rotate toys, putting Christmas or birthday presents away for later. At playtime, don’t be too eager to jump in and ‘help’ when in fact, junior just needs time to get immersed in his play; but feel free to join in and keep the activity going, as this helps to develop concentration.
Improvise with everyday items that you have at home. Cardboard boxes can be magically transformed into a cooker, a den, a castle or a dog house, and a bed sheet over a table makes a great tent. ‘Do more art and craftwork, cooking, baking and reading at home,’ says Arzberger. Instead of buying Plasticine, make your own play dough (don’t worry, it’s easy, just get a recipe online) and involve your child in preparing it, or just let them copy you making dinner. ‘Children love role playing. They love to explore with texture, sound and smell, so what could be more fun than imitating mummy in the kitchen?’ points out Arzberger.
So, which toys are good for development? Educators favour multifunctional, or open-ended, toys which allow the child to be creative and give him the freedom to explore, such as wooden building blocks. ‘A toy should have different functions or be versatile so it can be used in different ways, allowing them to try many variations, combinations, different themes with different outcomes,’ says Arzberger.
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