I find that parents are always looking for new and interesting ideas to keep their children engaged. My friend Gabby is an Early Childhood Development Specialist (and Scarsdale mom of two girls, ages 7 and 4), who specializes in childhood development, play therapy, special education, and parent-child & family relationships. One of her passions is to educate adults on the importance of play and to guide parents on how to connect play to child development. Gabby and I walked through Learning Express, and her passion for play was abundantly clear. She knows every game and every toy, and exactly what areas of child development each one promotes. While her knowledge on this topic is endless, we focused on some of her favorite picks for ages 3+, and have categorized them below. Head to Learning Express Scarsdale and mention Scarsdale Moms and Community of Play for 10% off the below selections. Let us know what topic you’d love to hear from Gabby on next!
Article by Gabrielle Felman
Playroom Refresh: While this list can go on and on, here are a few favorite toys to have on hand, as well as some notes about how they support your child’s development. Items listed with a * are great for on-the-go / restaurants! Remember, you know your child best and what he or she is interested in. In general, games and toys are a great way to understand who your child is as a learner, and to understand what’s on his or her mind to help build social skills.
In general, board games support a child’s ability to follow directions and rules. Additionally, they help children learn to wait, take turns and be flexible. The level of difficulty for the board games will vary but there are many on here that are perfect for children who are 3. Board games tend to become most enticing for children around the age of 4+ so if your 3 year old is not yet interested in a board game the time will come.
- Guess Who? – supports vocabulary building, attributes, visual discrimination, deductive reasoning and impulse control.
- Perfection – supportsshape recognition, scanning a visual field, matching, impulse control and frustration tolerance.
- Kids on Stage – supports literacy, expressive and receptive language, confidence, creativity
- Rush Hour – supports problem solving skills, working memory, accepting boundaries, patterning
- Qwirkle – supports spatial Recognition, forward planning, problem solving skills and shape recognition.
- Zingo (all varieties!) – supports matching, scanning a visual field, literacy, math, vocabulary building,
- Candyland – supports color recognition, following a non-linear pattern, frustration tolerance, acceptance of not being first, number sense
- Snail’s Pace Race – supports team building, color recognition, 1:1 correspondence, impulse control, motor planning and self regulation
- Pete the Cat Cupcake Game – supports team building, color recognition, 1:1 correspondence, number recognition, expressive and receptive language, turn-taking, memory skills
- Clack – supports scanning a visual field, working memory, categorization
- Mastermind for Kids – supports patterning, logic, deductive reasoning, impulse control
- Scrabble Junior – supports vocabulary building, literacy, spelling, letter recognition and matching, early reading
- HeadBandz – supports expressive language, receptive language and social language, understanding attributes, categories and memory
- Chutes + Ladders – supports counting, number recognition, working memory
- Hungry Hippos – supports building frustration tolerance, body awareness and regulation, counting
- Sequence for Kids – supports strategy, animal recognition, literacy
Art and Sensory
Art and sensory play is great for allowing children to be creative, practice fine motor skills and feel confident in their exploration. These open-ended materials help children create from the beginning and follow through with an idea. Because these materials are open-ended, most can be explored from 2.6+ . It’s important to watch out for mouthing because many of the materials are considered small parts.
- Beads & string*
- Chunkies Paint Sticks
- Dot Markers
- Model Magic
- Aaron’s Putty (keeps attention for a long time)
- Wikki Stix*
- Scratch Art
- Rainbow Loom*
Building Materials and Loose Parts
Building materials and loose parts also allow children to be creative and work on fine motor skills. Math and science are embedded in building as is literacy and problem solving. Building can start early! If you are using building materials with children younger than 3 it’s important for this play to be supervised.
- Magnatiles (new sets are souped up)
- Plus Plus Blocks* (these come in various sizes for different age groups!)
- Widget blocks
- Marble Run
- Road tape / painters tape
- Wooden blocks
- Lite Brite
Similar to board games, card games support problem solving skills, support working memory skills, literacy and math skills. Card games are great tools for turn-taking, building social skills and language. Card games are great for restaurants. Similar to board games, these games tend to be most interesting after 4. But, many 3 year olds love spot it and Uno.
- Uno (Uno MOO! For younger children)
- Spot It
Dramatic play gives children the opportunity to process everyday experiences. These experiences allow children to feel powerful and create tiny worlds that they are in control of. Oftentimes, dramatic play materials and building materials pair well together. Dramatic and pretend play can start early! If you are using small figurines with children younger than 3 it’s important for this play to be supervised.
- Calico Critters
- Tea Set
- Small Vehicles
- Other figurines
While it doesn’t fit into a specific category because the playthings that come in each box are varied, Lovevery is a subscription service specializing in curated developmental playthings. The subscription options currently support children from birth through the third year. The playthings truly grow with your child and you can use the items in lots of fun ways.
Last but not least, here are some strategies to set up your play room and to keep it fun and enticing:
- Rotate materials/games/toys
- Move materials to a different space or room to give it new life
- Mix & Match: put materials together that may or may not go together
Use household items to extend play (spice bottles, wipe containers, paper towel tubes, ice).