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Welcome to Train Table School!


Please read these fine articles written to educate parents on the importance of play and toy selection!


Choosing Toys to Enhance Children's Development

From rattles and teddy bears to tricycles and fairy wands, toys are an ever-present part of early childhood. But as many parents of young children have found, particularly when confronted with the towering racks at most toy stores, choosing quality, age-appropriate toys can be a challenge. Not only are the "right" toys a matter of individual taste, but some are much more likely to enhance children's development and learning than others.

The best toys are those that actively engage children, physically and mentally. They can also be used in a variety of ways, depending on the child's interests, ability levels and imagination. According to occupational therapist Marian Hammaren, these are very important elements to look for in toys, regardless of a child's age or developmental stage.

"A child's job is to play and explore, but today kids are being raised in an environment that encourages a much more sedentary lifestyle," says Hammaren.

For this reason Hammaren suggests that families overlook glitzy, electronic toys (many of which can only be used in one way) and computerized games (which don't require children to be physically active) in favor of more basic toys that help enhance the gross motor skill development of young children.

Gross motor skills are those that come from the physical activities that kids do naturally-running, jumping, crawling, climbing. The stretching and strengthening of muscles in early childhood lead to other refined motor skills, such as grasping and pinching-skills needed to hold a crayon or pencil or cut with scissors. They also allow children to hold themselves upright, make eye contact and sit for lengths of time when learning such skills as reading and writing once they reach school age.

An age-by-age guide to choosing toys

BABIES (birth to age 1)

You are your child's first, and most fascinating, plaything. Every time you coo, tickle or snuggle your children you are teaching them about a range of human emotions and interactions in ways that no colorful plastic clown could ever do. Between three and six months, the roster of favored toys may include rattles, a host of teething toys or brightly colored stuffed animal friends. But by and large, babies spend their first year content to learn about the world through their association with their parents, with siblings and with themselves.

Around the first birthday, a child's world begins to expand. Now children are mastering use of their hands to grasp and release objects. A perfect example of this is the child who can ceaselessly pick up and drop Cheerios from the tray of the highchair. They are also beginning to understand the people and objects in their world by grabbing, pounding, mouthing, tearing, etc. Many may be pulling themselves up to stand with support from mom, dad or the coffee table.

At this point, store-bought toys pale by comparison with all of the other objects that are up for grabs (literally). However, some objects that are favored by children at this age include boxes with lids and chunky objects that cannot be swallowed to put in and take out of the boxes, toys that include pegs to be hammered through a hole or balls that roll down a chute. Search your recyclables for unbreakable wide-mouth containers and toss in a few blocks or balls that fit easily inside. Toys that can be taken apart, such as stacking toys and wooden or plastic puzzles with oversized pieces, are also appropriate though children won't be able to put them back together yet. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, safe toys for babies are those 1.68 inches in diameter or larger. More information on toy safety can be found at the website, www.cpsc.gov.

TODDLERS (Ages 1-3)

At around 12 to 15 months, children's ability to grasp objects and manipulate them becomes more advanced. They are making the connection between cause and effect ("If I yell really loudly, Mommy will come running!"). Here begins the fascination with making noise by banging on pots and pans and repeatedly opening and closing cabinets and drawers both to see what's inside and to hear the noise they make.

"What is really cool with kids at this age," says Hammaren, "is that with a little imagination you can make almost any of the items that you use everyday developmentally appropriate and fun." Along this line, Hammaren suggests creating a drum set from an empty oatmeal canister and a wooden spoon. A sturdy set of chunky wooden blocks that come in various shapes and sizes and toys, such as stacking rings, where one object fits in sequence after another, are also good additions to the toddler toy chest. As they near their second birthday, many toddlers enjoy kid-sized versions of the tools that mom and dad use everyday. Toy brooms, vacuum cleaners, lawn mowers and gardening tools are wonderful props for playing at being grown-up and can give children's muscles a workout too.

Once toddlers hit age two, they can distinguish simple forms and shapes. Now is a perfect time for shape sorters and wooden puzzles (the type in which a shape, often with a peg attached for grasping, is fitted into one of a few spaces in a frame).

At this point most children have developed strength and control over their bodies and no longer need to use their arms for support. This frees them to explore with their hands and arms like never before. Balls become favorite playthings for many children. Try large beach-type balls for rolling and catching. Large wooden or colorful plastic stringing beads are great for enhancing hand/eye coordination. You can make your own set using empty thread spools and a couple of long shoelaces with knots tied in the end.


By age three, most children are masters at running, climbing and jumping and are beginning to show interest in other, more structured types of play. Children at this age will begin scribbling and cutting. Some non-destructive ways for children to practice their cutting skills include snipping along the edge of a piece of paper to make a grassy border for a collage or cutting Playdoh(tm) or cooked pasta tubes into pieces. Paper, finger paint, chunky crayons and blunt tipped scissors are good choices for craft supplies.

Many preschoolers love to don a cape or crown and pretend to be a favored superhero or a member of royalty. Though store-bought costumes can be beautiful, they are also pricey. Find a sturdy box to fill with items from your family's closets and jewelry that you no longer wear. Oversized scarves can become turbans, skirts and belts; old sunglasses and hats are great for going incognito. Just remember-never give children items such as ties and thin scarves that can be wrapped tightly around their necks and cause strangulation or that include beads or other trim that can be removed and swallowed.

Hammaren suggests that parents resist the urge to stock up on "educational" toys with the goal of jumpstarting children's learning. She says that at this age a good set of building blocks is still a wonderful toy that can be played with in many different and imaginative ways. They are also more likely to teach math skills than expensive electronic toys that work only when you push certain buttons or when they have charged batteries in them. Dolls are also great basic toys that can be used for role playing, making up stories and other verbal exchanges and practicing emotions.

Other toys that teach valuable
school readiness skills include:

  • See 'n Say(tm) toys

  • Toys for water play

  • Lacing cards to encourage hand/eye coordination

  • Dot-to-dot games or books that provide practice with numbers and teach sequencing

  • Bikes and other riding toys

  • Legos(tm) and Duplos(tm) and wooden toy trains to add an imaginative element to block play

  • Simple board and card games that require children to take turns help develop their social skills

  • Many older preschoolers develop a beginning interest in sports. At this point sports don't need to be formal or competitive. Buy an inexpensive soccer ball to kick around the yard or make a bowling set from empty milk cartons or soda bottles and a ball.

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