How to Make Sure Kids Are Getting a Well-Rounded Play Experience

I recently wrote an article about why the selection of toys is so important for a child’s development. However, we know that there are so many factors to a child’s development and so many ways in which they can learn new skills. With that in mind, how do you know if the toys you’ve selected are providing a well-rounded experience and supporting all of the different areas of your child’s growth? First, it would be important to first consider your child’s age. With every age comes a whole new set of social,emotional, physical, language, and cognitive milestones. You’ll want to ensure that your child’s play experience is such that it supports the appropriate skill set for their age group. Toys that are too elementary won’t push your child to develop further, and toys that are too advanced won’t allow your child to get the most out of them if they aren’t able to engage fully in the right ways just yet. You’ll also want to consider your child’s specific abilities, as well as the areas in which they need more support with growth and skill development. All children develop differently at different ages. While there are of course average milestones, you’ll want to consider whether or not your child has any special needs, any delays in average development, or even any advanced skill development that requires different attention. Once you’ve considered these factors for your child, you can then move on to selecting toys that are the right match for them. In order to allow for a “well-rounded” play experience, you’ll want to consider all of the different ways in which children develop, and then make sure that you’re providing toys that touch on each of those areas.

For our purposes, let’s take an average 3 year old as an example:

Language Development: An average 3 year old is expected to speak in full sentences and begin to answer questions. Play experience that will encourage speaking, telling stories, and learning new vocabulary would help to support the development of those skills.

Cognitive Development: Cognitively, a 3 year old should already know colors, begin engaging in dramatic and imaginative play, and follow 3-step directions. Matching games and toys that require sorting by shape or color would be appropriate at this age. Board games that require a child to follow a series of instructions would also be a supportive option. Providing toys such as dress-up sets, costumes, and play sets will support pretend play and encourage children to imagine new scenarios.

Gross Motor Skills: A 3 year old will be showing improved balance, and will be able to begin learning skills like throwing and catching a ball, jumping, and hopping. Introduce toys that will encourage the practice and development of these physical skills. This is a great time to begin playing ball games, spending time on different playground equipment, engaging in fun obstacle courses, and generally encouraging active play.

Fine Motor Skills: At 3, a child will begin to learn how to properly use scissors, hold crayons with a tripod grasp, and copy simple shapes. Choose toys and activities to encourage the development of muscles in the hands in order to support these skills. Color and cut paper together. Play games with tweezers, and try construction toys that require turning and twisting. Use Play Doh and other sculpting toys that require pulling, pushing, and squeezing.

Social-Emotional Development: At this age, children will begin to understand emotions and will be able to better wait for their turn during games. Encourage activities that involve sharing thoughts or feelings and games that involve turn-taking in order to practice these new ideas.

Visual Skills: A 3 year old is beginning to better understand and make meaning of what they see. They will begin to show improved perception, memory, visual motor, and spatial skills. Encourage them to throw at a target, play memory games, solve simple puzzles, and play with a variety of construction toys to promote visual spatial thinking.

*For kids of any age, outdoor play and exercise are incredibly important and shouldn’t be forgotten when considering valuable play experiences.

helen sadovsky