Educational toys really suffer from this, as they are assumed to be not useful for under a particular age bracket. In turn, they are seen to have a short shelf life. In many shops and high street retailers, educational toys might be displayed in sections that are not intended for babies and young toddlers. Even worse is an educational toy only being certified for 36 months and over. Thereby not being suitable for children to safely engage with educational resources.
However, when buying open-ended craft toys, these rules of toys being for age or gender no longer apply. To help illustrate what I mean, I’m going to suggest toys we make here at Hellion and why they are so long-lasting. I will illustrate why toys can be ideal for little toddlers, preschoolers, and school-age children alike. So you can see the value of these toys lies in years of use, not months!
The first toy I recommend for the starting with is the dot cubes and quantity toys. We know from research that most children can be counting up to about number 6 at 18 months. This is an amazing feat. Facilitating this is obviously important, as counting and thinking about quantity is a rich first step into later mathematics
Our dot cubes offer a sensory approach to feeling and counting quantity too. Being a rainbow set, the child can learn about colour. Together this can set a child up for thinking about colour and quantity sequences and patterns interchangeably. Colour can help guide the way, or quantity, depending on what is picked up first. At preschool, the tactile dots can help with the transition towards symbolic numbers. At school age, dots can be switched up with maths symbols to take counting into maths and beyond. So one small set early on can be used many years later.
The second toy I recommend is a personalised first name board. The benefits of a child having a tactile toy with their name on lies in how it opens a conversation about themselves and who they are. This cannot be underestimated, as it raises self-awareness and equally self-confidence. It opens up a conversation about who they are in relation to others too.
Name boards can be folded into a wide variety of sensory play. A good example is using rice and dough, to begin looking and thinking about the sounds and letters which form their names. These activities can help fine motor skills develop, through touching and using tools to help explore. Again it is a toy that can be used at preschool and beyond. In fact, Sara Ockwell Smith has recently highlighted how children may find starting school less stressful if they can recognise their own names.
My final toy for a bigger budget is the Hellix mini. The Hellix mini was designed to facilitate physical development from an RIE perspective. I envisioned it to be a place to grow body confidence and retreat to, acting as an anchor point for early years play. As a robust structure, the mini is brilliant for pre-walkers to cruise around. Later it can facilitate a child’s physicality and help to grow body confidence. Especially useful for those parents and caregivers (like myself) whose children seemed determined to climb.
To unlock the secrets within its unusual shape, I created a dedicated guide to illustrate how the design confidently channels a young child’s Schemas and beyond. For certain, it provides a safe structure to climb, jump and slide from. Equally a peaceful place to rock, snuggle and have quiet time within. Many use it on turned on its side as a snack table too when they get hungry. Therefore it is a versatile and long-lasting toy. It is also why children will go back to playing with it time and again. Like all toys that benefit from some rotation to ignite new learning opportunities, with the Hellix, you just have to turn it over.
Hopefully, these three suggestions start to give you an insight into the thinking that lies behind each toy. Equally, how rich handcrafted educationally focused toys can be for young children. The introduction of these resources really becomes visible as speech and language development grows exponentially between 18 months and 3 years. Suddenly those many months of play-based learning are visible in the conversation we begin to have with children. They often surprise us at how much they have been soaking up! So being able to access educationally focused resources young matters. It is why ALL our toys are independently CE certified safe from 12 months.