Words: Daniela Burnham
From the day our children are born, we spend many hours observing their development, watching proudly as they reach new milestones. First smiles. First words. First steps. But sometimes, the unexpected moments of cognition can feel just as fulfilling. During a recent stroll, I watched as my two-year-old son toddled through the sunny park to reach a patch of leafy shadows dancing on the pavement – he then turned to me, wide-eyed and shouted, “Under the tree!” It was a sense of pure joy of discovery that only a child can display.
Learning does not only take place at desks and in classrooms. “Children use all their senses to learn about the world,” says Dr Clare Henderson, clinical child psychologist. “Learning through play, interaction and exploration is essential to cognitive development. The more fun children have while they learn, the more they will focus their attention, the more information they will absorb, and the more inspired they will be to continue discovering new things.”
Classic wooden blocks and shape sorters still serve a valuable purpose, but today’s educational toys are impressive on a whole new level. The Dutch design company, Kidsonroof, has raised the bar in the genre, with its sleek, colourful cardboard figures that teach children about everything from science and aerospace to animals and architecture. These are the kind of toys that allow children to dream about what they want to be when they grow up, and allow them to develop their skills.
A newcomer called Little Name, which recently launched in the US, offers a heartfelt collection that develops interactive and educational connections for kids. The clever products include the “Little Lunch Pal,” a wooden box that opens into a portable place setting and the “Little Scarf,” a silkscreen-printed scarf that doubles as a game board for chess and checkers.
“I believe that involving as many tactile and tangible senses as possible is key to processing thoughts and imagination,” Little Name founder Alexis McVicker says. “Meaningful colour and natural materials are wonderful tools to strengthen memory, recognition and security, and to empower a positive emotional response to learning, curiosity and creativity.”
Creative play is becoming ever more important in our modern world; the emergence of more dynamic educational toys is helpful for parents seeking a balance with screen media. But technology has its advantages, too. There are some phenomenal apps out there that both teach and entertain. Try Fiete (£1.99, iTunes), a beautifully illustrated, interactive book for toddlers. By sliding objects around the iPad screen, your child helps a friendly sailor accomplish simple tasks such as putting cheese on toast and popping a balloon. Founder Wolfgang Schmitz says, “The main idea behind Fiete is: Combine two things and get a reaction. The children have to understand the given situation and find out what to do by themselves. Through the positive reaction as a reward, they learn how the shown items belong together. They learn by doing.”
When my son plays Fiete, I see the same expression on his face that he exhibited under the tree not too long ago – a sense of wonder and pride from learning by his own doing. The future of creative play looks bright.