Friday, January 29
There are some toys that seem destined to sit on the shelf in a toy store. They don't have glitzy packaging; they aren't associated with any TV character; they don't have any flashing lights or battery-operated coolness. So they just sit on the shelves.
I'm thinking of two toys in particular: blocks and bean bag squares. When was the last time you saw a child write these items at the top of her Christmas or birthday list?
Yet research--along with our own "guts"--suggest that these are the very toys our children should be playing with. There are many benefits of block play. According to the experts in the book Einstein Never Used Flash Cards, children learn language, mathematical, emotional, and cognitive skills from block play. The same is true, they note, of other open-ended play toys, such as dolls, play kitchens, and I would add bean bags to the list.
But still, we parents find it hard to ignore our child's wish list for the latest "in" toy and buy him blocks and bean bags instead. Why? I think there are two answers to this question. 1. ) Marketers are evil geniuses. Heck, when I finally saw a Zhu Zhu pet commercial, I almost believed it was the most fun thing I had ever seen. I wanted a hamster to love with no poop to clean up! and 2.) We have forgotten to think like a child. We have forgotten how to look at these simple toys and see all the possibilities. This skill is what the marketers use against us. They show children the possibilities. The Zhu Zhu pets are shown navigating tube mazes, making loving noises, making children laugh. In short, the commercial shows kids how to play with the toy.
We can use this tactic to some extent with our kids. We can "market" these simpler, open-ended toys to our kids. We can do this by offering them the toy and getting on the floor and playing with them when they seem stuck. We can encourage them to try new ways to play with their toys.
So in that spirit, I'm offering some ideas that have gotten my kids engaged in play with these types of toys, and I invite you to add to our list.
1. Use little animals or cars with the blocks. Building can become even more fun when you're building a house for a hippo or a garage for a Mustang.
2. Use small balls with blocks. A big part of block fun is the destruction after the build! Experiment with different sizes and weights of balls and roll them into the tower.
3. Use bean bags to get kids active inside. Make a trail of bean bags and have your child hop on one foot from start to finish trying to pick each one up. If there's more than one child, they could race to complete it first.
4. Set up laundry baskets at different places and distances from a marked spot in the house. Have kids try to toss the bean bags into the different baskets.
5. Have kids try to walk while balancing a bean bag on his head. Try balancing on top of one foot while walking.
6. Make a tic-tac-toe board on a piece of cardboard or poster board. Have players try to toss 3-in-a row.
7. Hide the bean bags and let your child find them all.
Once you get your child interested in these types of toys, step back and let her make up her own games with them. And then maybe, just maybe, the top of her list might surprise you on the next gift-giving holiday.
We'd love to hear your ideas of games to play with blocks and bean bags! Post them below!