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Toys…tools for therapy…or both?

To the naked eye, toys are toys. Take a look at the shelf in our therapy rooms at Total Pediatrics and you’ll wonder how, exactly, so many “toys” are used for “therapy”. Consider the dozens of aisles at your local big box store are decorated with bright colors, loud noises, flashing lights – all begging for the attention of your child. That’s right, your child’s attention, not yours. Marketing gurus spend lots of time (and money) making their product stand out among the rest. The idea is that if the child sees it and asks for it, they’ll get it. This is where parenting happens. Whether or not to buy a toy is the rightful decision of the parents and no one else. Which toys to buy, however, might warrant more professional input than you’d think.

Let’s first take a step back. A developing child has very few responsibilities. These responsibilities include asking for food when they’re hungry, growing, sleeping, toileting, socializing, and playing. Just as adults roll out of bed each day to go to their job to engage their responsibilities, so do children. A child’s work is to play. Through play a child learns motor skills, social skills, and cognitive skills, learning the process of cause and effect, sensory regulation, even self- and spatial-awareness. The fine and gross motor requirements of all types of play are crucial to appropriate development…and it’s really hard to play without toys.

When selecting toys to buy your growing children, look for toys that are durable. They should be designed to withstand years of use and it’s always nice if they can be passed down to future generations of children. Look for toys that are safe and age appropriate. Toys with small, removable parts shouldn’t be given to an infant who explores their surroundings orally. Inversely, a fluffy baby toy is likely displeasing to a six or seven year old adventure seeker. Look for toys that require the use of both hands. Bilateral integration, another developmental skill, is often simple to facilitate simply by providing  toys that require the use of both hands. Look for toys that are mobile. Look for toys that can be used in various body positions. In older children, look for toys that require movement in the wrist and fingers, such as medium piece jigsaw puzzles or jewelry-making kits. Look for toys that promote social interaction. Two-player games or even simply sharing pieces of a single toy are great ways to promote appropriate social reciprocity in young children. With all of these things in consideration, is the toy worth the cost?

On the surface a toy is a toy. At Total Pediatrics, a toy is a tool.