There’s a lot more to play than just fun and games. Everything children do through play helps them master how to live successfully in the adult world.
Playing is the most natural way for a child to learn, and with the enormous range of toys and games on offer, babies and young children can pick up a huge variety of skills they need to develop and grow. More than just a pastime for babies – it’s vital to their healthy development. Sport, too, can be a great leveller as, whatever social background children have, they can all play together in a playground.

Wooden it be nice

There’s an array of different types of toys available for youngsters of all ages. One of the most popular for young children is the jigsaw puzzle – the simplest, made up of around six big, chunky pieces in the shapes of animals, cars, nature and the like, are great for little ones. They’ll marvel at their finished ‘masterpieces’.
Puzzles are cheap to buy and, if their love for the humble jigsaw continues as they grow older, more complex ones, including those with several thousand pieces and even 3D versions of globes and famous city landmarks, will be a big hit.
Another great item for younger children is the traditional wooden toy. A classic feature in any child’s bedroom, simple yet colourful wooden trains, cars and building sets not only look great set out, they’re also perfect for imaginative games and constructive play.
Children can use their imagination and add to their toy ‘village’ or ‘park’ with building sets. A school with mini pupils and teachers, a blackboard and swings; a castle with knights on horseback, a king, queen and dragons; or a farmyard with the farmer and his cattle, sheep and other animals – can all make for great entertainment.
Many manufacturers produce creative and timeless toys (both wooden and plastic), with Playmobil (www.playmobil.co.uk) even offering play worlds – a selection of traditional figures which go with different constructions and accessories that enable your child to recreate life-like themes and scenarios. Their hands are made of softer plastic to enable them to hold accessories such as tools and swords. And their features are moulded onto their faces not drawn on, so they last forever. How sweet!

Make their learning fun

Who said science and research can’t be exciting? Kids love experimenting – but gone are the days when the closest they’d get to creating a funky formula was the forbidden chemistry set. Now there’s a wide selection of super creative kits that will keep them quiet for hours such as doodle socks, temporary tattoo designers and pottery making kits.
Some educational toys will require a little help from a grown-up, such as chocolate or candle- making, botanical experiments and microcosm inventions. Girls and boys alike will love making their own rocks and crystals, and there are perfume-making kits to delight little fashionistas (for ages eight up).

Board not bored

Everyone loves a good board game – it’s a chance for the whole family to get together and battle it out for bragging rights! You may remember Ludo and Snakes And Ladders being family faves, but the number of different ‘two or more players’ games on the market has increased hugely. However, old favourites such as Monopoly, Scrabble and Trivial Pursuit are still up there in the top 10 family games, according to a 2014 survey by The Daily Telegraph.
For slightly older kids (eight years+) there’s also a new generation of modern board games based on current TV shows – Pointless, Eggheads, The Chase – while a selection of brain-engaging quizzes proves a challenge to even confident, competitive dads. While there may be an abundance of challenges on offer on social media, apps on iPhones and tablets, and gaming devices, it’s reassuring to know that good old faithful games are here to stay.

Musical tots

Children learn a lot through music, singing and dancing. It helps to develop rhythm, listening and hearing, and it’s fun. Singing songs to your baby or playing nursery rhymes around them can help teach them how language is put together, widens vocabulary and aids in relaxation.
Encouraging children to experiment with dance and playing even simple musical instruments allows self expression and offers them a way to communicate before they learn to talk. You can take it further by making little songs and encouraging your child to copy you, making them really listen to the sounds. Halilit (www.halilit.co.uk) offers a wide range of child-friendly musical toys for kids from 12 months, while the rattles and shakers are suitable for children as young as three months.

JO SAYS...
'Playing is essential to help your child's brain develop. Puzzles and wooden blocks are great for creative play, while musical games and repetition aid auditory, emotional and visual skills.'

Doll's play

The interplay between parental control of toys and games and a child’s drive for freedom to play, been studied by American historian Howard Chudacoff. He describes how, in the colonial era, toys were makeshift and children taught each other simple games with little adult supervision. The 19th century saw the development of the modern concept of childhood as a distinct, happy life stage, and in this era, factory-made toys including dolls and dolls’ houses became popular with wealthy families.

Playing with dolls helps children understand their world and themselves, as well as developing them physically. Activities such as dressing, bathing and feeding the dolls improve fine motor and self-help skills. This type of play is based on a child’s imagination, so it encourages creativity and expands language. The emotional aspect is also important. This type of play allows a child to practise nurturing and caring, and can also teach them the roles of people in their day-to-day life. Petalina dolls (www.petalinadolls.co.uk) has a wide selection of dolls as well as accessories and furniture to create a lifelike experience. If your child would prefer something a little more action-led, then try the Marvel action figures.

Images: Shutterstock

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