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Staying Power Choosing Toys That Last

By Carly Loeper, Exhibit & Program Developer, Providence Children’s Museum

pcmlogocolor-9.jpgWhat makes a great plaything? At the Children’s Museum, this question is always on our minds as we select toys and materials for our programs, exhibits and Gift Shop. If, as Fred Rogers said, “Play is really the work of childhood,” then toys are children’s tools, for self-expression, pretending, and learning about themselves and how they fit in the world.

I asked Museum staff and visitors which toys have had staying power in their children’s lives and noticed trends: Legos, costumes, yarn for crafting, Play-Doh, trucks and small figurines, drawing paper and pencils. The American Academy of Pediatrics also advocates for these “true toys, such as blocks and dolls, with which children use their imagination fully, over passive toys that require limited imagination.”

A passive toy with a media tie-in, back story or computer-chipped flashiness doesn’t allow the child to bring it to life. The toys that spark creativity are the ones that let the child initiate how they will be used, that can be played with in lots of different ways. One parent shared a memory of how her now-teenage son surprised her by taking to an old-fashioned stick-and-hoop toy: “I loved watching him. He did everything with that toy — roll it, bang on it, hula hoop with it.”Girl-plays-with-legos

Active Engagement
Another mother shared a favorite of her three boys: a wooden train set, emphasizing that it was “the kind you can put together yourself and push along the track.  They love to be creative on their own.”  Toys that have the best play value require active engagement.  Making connections between their hands and their brains, children develop hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills as they manipulate their environments and gain mastery. Toys like balls and scooters encourage kids to get moving and give them opportunities to use their bodies and take risks.

The Real Thing
As children explore the roles of the adult world, look for chances to let them experiment with real stuff. For the young school-age artist, assemble art supplies fit for a grown-up with quality colored pencils and a sketch book. Give handy boys and girls a collection of simple tools, chunky nuts and bolts, and a tape measure, and young doctors a kit of bandages, a stethoscope and other supplies.

Great playthings inspire, let the child direct the play and can be returned to again and again.


TRUCE: Teacher’s Resisting Unhealthy Children’s Entertainment, an organization of educators concerned about the impact of media and commercial culture on children, provides an annual “Toys, Play & Young Children Action Guide” and other resources for tips on buying toys of value and trends to avoid.

The Parent’s Choice Foundation is a nonprofit guide to quality children’s media and toys, recommending “products that help kids grow — imaginatively, physically, morally and mentally — fairly priced products that are fun, safe and socially sound.”

The National Network for Childcare posts the article “Better Kid Care: Play is the Business of Kids,” which gives helpful lists of appropriate types of toys for children up to 12 years old, with ideas of how to support their play.

What have been the simple, meaningful playthings in your children’s lives?  Share your comments!

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Searching for creative gifts this holiday season? Providence Children’s Museum’s Gift Shop offers imaginative and educational toys and games for children of all ages, many of which reflect the Museum’s hands-on exhibits and programs.  Choose from a wide array of open-ended toys, colorful puzzles and engaging craft kits.  The Gift Shop is open during all Museum public hours; admission fees are not required.  Museum members receive a 10% discount on every purchase!

credit: Providence Children’s Museum

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1 comment
  • thank you for this! we are a big fan of “true toys” in our house.

    (though i do appreciate the flashy, bells and whistle toys on occasion…like rainy days and long car rides! 😉