AltSchool Hub

How to Shop for Toys that Teach

Posted by The AltSchool Team

Dec 18, 2013 5:12:00 PM

JohnnycircuitsresizedYou’ve seen their lists - you’ve checked them twice…

And yet you STILL can’t bring yourself to order up the latest Nerf Blaster or Disney princess, can you?

The good news? There are some great finds out there that will make your children merry...and bright.

The best toys offer more than just entertainment. They can be valuable learning opportunities that build communication skills, hand-eye coordination, problem-solving and creative thinking.

We asked one of our teachers, Lauren Hancock, for helpful advice for parents who want to choose holiday-worthy toys that will help their children grow and develop.

Lauren’s tips? Focus on:

  • Interests: Evaluate toys related to areas that your child loves.

  • Abilities: Choose a toy that matches your child’s current ability and can grow with your child over time.

  • Open-ended experiences: Look for toys that have multiple uses and no “end.”

  • Transfer of knowledge: Find toys that teach skills that transfer to other areas.

As an example, Lauren recently brought the game Snap Circuits to our Dogpatch classroom. Snap Circuits is a kit with multiple electronic parts, including a peg board and button-snap connectors. It is designed for a wide age group (“from 8 to 108”) and enables children to build all kinds of fun projects such as radios, doorbells, and dancing lights.

Lauren played Snap Circuits with both younger and older children.  With both age groups, she made sure that they had free time to just “mess about” with the components. Instead of starting with instructions, she gave children unstructured play with new materials so they can engage in the the discovery process on their own.

With the younger children, Lauren first brought out only a few of the components.“Don’t just throw out all the pieces,” she explains. “Start them off small -  the battery,  a couple of the connectors, and something that glows.” From there, she helps them understand how the basic components work together.

One of the younger students, a 5-year-old, is already interested in building a more advanced project - connecting the circuits with an Ipad to produce dancing lights. Lauren likes Snap Circuits because it enables this type of skill-building over the long-term.

“He may not be able to get it right now, but he eventually will,” she says. 

Lauren also appreciates the social skills that children learn with this toy. She noticed that some students who have mastered basic circuits are already teaching their peers these skills. “Children learn to be experts and are excited to show others,” she explains.

Are you a Snap Circuits family? Love RobotTurtles? Die-hard lego-ers? We'd love to hear which toys your children enjoy the most. Please share below. 



Topics: Dogpatch Classroom, Parenting Tips and Workshops