Play is an essential part of growing up. Through play children learn about the world around them and it is, therefore, important to understand how valuable toys and play are in the development of the child. Children with access to a wide range of well-selected toys are more likely to be challenged and stimulated. Studies find that they reach higher levels of intellectual development, regardless of their sex, race or social class.
Toys that stimulate mental development are appropriate for the child's abilities, responsive to the child's movements and provide feedback when manipulated. Whether playing alone or with others, quietly or with enthusiasm, play is the way children explore their world and create imaginary ones.
Research shows that through play children learn how to plan and solve problems. Play encourages them to develop language and communication skills and to use imagination and creativity. Physical play helps them to develop agility, balance, co-ordination and fine motor skills.
Playful children are happier, better adjusted, more co-operative and more popular with their peers than those who play less. Children also play for longer when a wide variety of toys is available. It is not necessarily the most expensive toys that provide the greatest stimulation and enjoyment. It is better to have four or five different toys than one very expensive one.
Children differ enormously in their rate of growth and development so toys should keep pace with children's changing needs and ability levels. Toys should be chosen that are fun for children to play with. To be fun they should match the child's maturity and challenge his or her skills. Go for products with lots of features, activities, bright colours, different textures and sounds.
For play to be of benefit, children should feel secure and comfortable in their surroundings, with supportive adults present and a wide assortment of toys to play with. Children should be encouraged from an early age to get involved in the selection of their toys. Children should not be forced to play or pushed to play games that may be too difficult for them.