Play Better #14: Buying Tips for the Holidays

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The holidays are in full swing!

Whether it’s for your own tots, a nephew, a niece, or even a friend’s child, toys are a huge part of holiday gift-giving for most of us. Which is why this month, we’re dishing out tips to help you survive the buying battle and come out tops as a Better gifter in the realm of toys!

Keep the following considerations in mind for a happy, fun, and safe holiday season!

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Ensure that the toy is age appropriate.
It is tempting to want our children to always achieve their fullest potential, but play is how children learn about themselves and build self-esteem. Buying a toy that is beyond their years will only frustrate them.

The idea is to bring home age-appropriate toys and games that will build your child’s sense of confidence as an active learner. The same goes for games that are too lengthy, or crafts that are too complicated. More importantly, always heed warning labels that tell you a toy is ‘not intended for a child under 3’. A lot of the time, this is more of a safety indication than a challenge on your child’s developmental capabilities.

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Look for toys with lasting play value.
This usually refers to any toy that is open-ended, scalable, or modular in nature. Building blocks, marble runs, train tracks, dollhouses – anything that can be played with minimal rules and structure tend to engage children better and over a wider age spectrum, ensuring that it is a toy that will be revisited over and over even after years have passed.

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Choose Quality Over Price.
There is a difference between toys that are affordable, and toys that are cheaply made. The younger your child is, the more important it is that this difference is understood. Poorly made toys – whether in form or materials used – pose immense danger to both your child and the environment, and we cannot stress this enough. At best, the toy barely lasts and you find yourself having to repurchase duplicates of the same thing more than once.

Choose Quality Over Quantity.
The great Abigail Van Buren once said, “If you want your children to turn out well, spend twice as much time with them and half as much money.”

Sometimes, less really is more. ‘Fewer toys’ is not the same as ‘no toys’; and your child will actually benefit from a careful curation of toys chosen for quality and function, rather than just sheer quantity. Buying into fads, for instance, is the single greatest perpetrator of this mistake (more into that later). Analyse your motivation and purpose before making any purchase: it helps minimize distractions and refine your toy selection process.

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Look for Gender-neutral Toys.
Labelling construction sets as ‘boy’ toys and craft kits or dolls as ‘girl’ toys do nothing to encourage creativity and experimentation. In fact, it restricts them, and limits them to think that they ‘can’t’ or that they ‘shouldn’t’, even before they have had the opportunity to try.

Toys are meant to inspire the imagination and push the boundaries of exploration, so what good would it do if we were to tell our sons that they can’t be cooks and our daughters that they can’t build houses? Imagination and creativity are equally strong in all children – boys and girls. And at the end of the day, the most important thing we should be concerned with is putting the right material in their hands. Quality, safety, and play value is paramount; not gender biases.

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Encourage Toys that Foster Independence
Children do tend to learn better and more holistically when left to their own devices. Trusting the desire of young children to learn about their world in their own exploratory way is the cornerstone of play-based learning – and often, the simplest play aids will prove the most fun and educational. While it is important to ensure that they are able participate successfully in collaborative play, it is also just as critical that your child knows to think, act, and make decisions on his own; so that when they finally come together with other children, they are more aware of their own emotions and behaviour, and are more effective at expressing themselves.

Keep in mind though that there is a marked difference between playing independently, and playing alone. Children who know how to conduct themselves independently do not necessarily keep to themselves exclusively. It simply means that they possess the sense of security, confidence, and self-esteem that allows them to transit effortlessly between parallel and collaborative play, showing little to no difficulty in adapting.

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Or Toys That Promote Physical Activity.
Save the electronics for next time – our children will have their whole lives ahead to burrow themselves in the techy world of devices and gadgets. Instead, optimize these critical developmental years and opt for a toy that takes play outside.

Outdoor play is one of the greatest joys of childhood, but it is more than just a way of having a good time. It is the best place for young ones to gain a sense of mastery and competency of skills – whether physical or cognitive. Not only does it allow them to expend all that boisterous energy inside, it also encourages learning and problem-solving from an early age, which eventually helps them perform better at school. In fact, unstructured outdoor play has been shown to help children focus better in a classroom setting, as it promotes creativity and helps them think differently, enhancing their readiness for learning and easing the eventual transition to school.

haba-3868-colour-snake-wooden-toy-now-in-malaysia-5Ensure that Your Choice Is Safe For Both Child and the Environment.
Look for brands that implement best practices which far exceeds the toy industry standards. What materials do they use? If it’s plastic, is it recyclable; and if it’s wood, is it from a sustainable source? What chemicals go into the colouring and paints? What accreditation do they have and more importantly, is the toy tested? Always make sure to inspect toys for sturdiness. They should be durable with no sharp edges or points; and especially with the younger tots, should always be able to withstand impact. For those with babies, be careful with crib toys. Strings, ropes, and wires should be kept short to avoid strangulation.

That said…

Shop Only At Retailers You Know and Trust.
Form and function aside, it is paramount that your toy providers are even greater sticklers for quality and safety than you are. Conduct some basic research, and choose stores or brands that believe that for you and your child, only the best is good enough.

Staff at established specialty stores also tend to know their stuff better, and will not only be able to help you make more informed decisions, but also understand your needs better and make more appropriate recommendations accordingly.

Choosing from brands you trust help you make decisions with a peace of mind – holiday shopping should not give us an extenuation to compromise on safety and quality.

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Don’t Give Into Fads.
And here’s our best tip for toy shopping this season: skip the fads for real investment.

Refrain from toys that you know will be hot one day and in the bargain bin the next. This includes anything with specific characters or toys that have more novelty value than play value.

That is not to say that they cannot indulge their interests – it’s just that we should help them do it more effectively. If they are into the princesses, get them building blocks that can transform from a princess castle to a fairytale village with nothing but the imagination. If they’re into the latest animal movie, get them puppets, or a zoo and animal figurines to further heighten their curiosity about the animal kingdom.

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Don’t sweat it! A good toy, at no matter what developmental stage, will stimulate the urge for exploration and discovery. They should be able to challenge our little ones to do, think, and feel; and as long as you keep your options open-ended, you’ll do great! In any case, just remember that the best gift you can give anyone is not the gift itself, but the experiences and memories that it can create.

Happy holidays, folks!

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