The Toy Your Child Really Needs

The greatest gift you can give is free

Posted Nov 26, 2011

Play is key to fostering emotional, social, and cognitive growth. It is core to building resilience because children use imaginative play to confront their fears and overcome challenges. Play hones children's creativity and therefore ultimately their innovative potential.

Toys are the tools of play and therefore must also be considered essential to child development.

Sometimes we feel badly that we can't get the newest shiny toy. We feel particularly guilty when we can't get those "educational" toys we are told every child must have to be properly prepared to excel in kindergarten.

Your child's eyes sparkle at even the thought of that dream toy with every imaginable bell and whistle. It is so special it does the playing for the child. Your child will cherish it for at least a few days.

The other homes in your toddler's play-group are filled with educational toys. Will your child fall behind?

But which toys are best? Remember toys are the tools of play, and play is built into our DNA to develop our imagination, creativity, and social and emotional intelligence. This means that the more a toy requires children to use their own imagination the better the toy. The great news is that the best toys are inexpensive (ball, trucks, dolls, building blocks, art supplies) or free (sticks, clouds, dirt, all that is in nature . . . and you).

Did you catch those last two words? And you!! You are the greatest toy your child could ever desire. Children cherish their parents' undivided child-centered time spent in play more than they do any toy.

You will be amazed at what you will learn about your child as you enter her world through play. You will see the world from her vantage point as she navigates a world perfectly created just to fit his or her needs. You'll gain a fuller understanding of his perspective because he'll express his views, experiences, and even frustrations through play more effectively than he can through words.

But what about all of those lost educational opportunities? There is nothing you can buy or do that will prepare your child for kindergarten (or life!) more than the time you spend reading, listening, and playing.

The greatest gift you can give your child  is free. It is your time and undivided attention.

Dr. Kenneth Ginsburg is the author of "Building Resilience in Children and Teens: Giving Kids Roots and Wings" as well as the American Academy of Pediatrics' clinical guidelines "The importance of play in promoting healthy child development and maintaining strong parent-child bonds."