Engage Their Imagination: Great Toys for Children Under 8

As a daycare professional working with children everyday, I am amazed by the loss of imagination in today’s children. However, when given the tools to use their imagination, these children almost always create large, bright complex stories. In today’s age of video games, non-stop internet access and increasing “reality” television, it is important to give our children the tools to engage their imagination and creativity. Here are some great toys that do just that for different age groups.

Ages 2-5 years

Blocks: Blocks of any kind offer children a blank slate with which to begin. What they choose to build is only limited by their imagination and skill level. No two children will choose to build the same thing. Also, the addition of cars, fake trees, or plastic people adds to the avenues the children’s imagination can roam. Blocks also offer motor development as well as hand-eye coordination for younger children, especially a Lincoln Logs type blocks (http://lincolnlogs.knex.com/)

Dress Up: Not just for girls! Boys love to dress up like firemen, cowboys, and even just dressing up like an adult. Dress-up clothes can be bought at stores, but sometimes the best, most fun dress-up clothes are just your old clothes. They may be a bit big, but it doesn’t bother the kids. They can pretend to be adults, movie stars, anything their imagination can think up. Set up a chest or closet with dress up clothes. Have a wide variety of shoes, skirts, pants, shirts, and dresses. Let the children choose how they put the outfit together. Dress up clothes also work great with the next toy: play kitchen.

Play Kitchen/House: “House” is a game that can take the imagination anywhere. Kids won’t automatically have a mom who stays home and a dad that goes to work. There will be dogs to feed, dinner to be made by everyone, and jobs of all kinds-whatever the kids can imagine. A play kitchen helps kids learn about cleaning up after themselves (pretending to wash the dishes) and allows them to imagine what it will be like when they grow up. Use two cardboard boxes to make a washer and dryer out of. Buy a set of food/plates for the kitchen. This is a toy that, generation after generation, doesn’t get old.

Crayons and Paper: Art projects allow children to express themselves creatively. Any kind of art project will work for younger children, though the more freedom they have in what they can create, the more they will use their own imaginations and skills. They will also be more interested if it is their own project. Always have crayons, markers or colored pencils on hand with blank paper.

Ages 5-8 years

Legos (www.lego.com): If given a set of generic Legos, a child has a million different ways of imagining and putting together their own creation. Though Legos often come in a variety of sets where children can build a specific item, allowing them to create their own items is often more stimulating. However, both work. If you do buy a set, the child can always make what’s supposed to be made, then create their own design afterwards. Their imagination is only limited by what blocks are available to them.

Board Games: Games like Life, Clue or Clue Jr., Monopoly or Monopoly Jr. (www.hasbro.com) allow children to play a board game, follow rules, learn good-sportsmanship while engaging their imaginations. All three of these games involve choices and settings in which the imagination is not static on rolling the dice or simply trying to beat their opponent. Also, if there is a group of children, they will learn the importance of getting along, following rules, and being a gracious winner or loser.

Large Blocks/Cardboard Box: Older kids will enjoy making houses out of large blocks or a cardboard box. With large blocks they can make a wide variety of buildings, which they can pretend to inhabit. For large cardboard boxes they can decorate it however they chose. Children of all ages will enjoy this, but the older children will have more fun designing or building their creation. Again, the outcome is whatever they can imagine and bring to fruition.

Yarn/Popsicle Sticks: As with younger children, art projects offer the freedom to create something in their own head. Older kids may enjoy making things out of other objects, such as Popsicle sticks. Yarn is also popular as they enjoy making friendship bracelets or other things to wear. This age will still like drawing, but those who don’t have an aptitude for it might be more interested in creating something out of other objects. At this age you might want to give them a few ideas, but ultimately let them make their own choices and creations.

Picking toys that engage the mind with a sense of fun while harnessing a child’s creative spirit will help the child develop a strong imagination, which will help them in a variety of areas. A strong imagination allows children the ability to entertain themselves as they get older and older. And, all of these toys develop other skills such as rule-following, motor skills, logic, hand-eye coordination, a sense of responsibility and more. Though video games are easy to buy and the TV is easy to put the children in front of, it’s important to engage them in toys that will develop their own imagination and sense of being.

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