On this episode of the Real Happy Mom Podcast I talking to Mikala, from Stages of Fun all about fun and functional toys for all ages. She explains how to buy the best toys so that you don’t end up with a room full of junk toys like I did.
If you want to learn how to be the best gift giver, check out this episode.
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Mikala is a wife and mom of two girls. She lives in South Dakota and works as a physical therapist
Working with kids and physical therapy and having young kids of her own, she struggled to find good toys that didn’t have batteries and encouraged creativity.
This is when the idea for Stages of Fundamentals started.
Stages of Fundamentals has two sections. The first is the play kits for developmental ages 0-5.
So let’s say you have a two-year-old and you need a birthday gift. I have a play kit for you that is designed for two year olds. Or I have a newborn or six month old. So that’s perfect for kids.
These play kits include high-quality toys that promote the development of milestones specific to that age range.
There are also instructions on how you can play with your child and the toy to help them gain their skills and have fun as they play.
Mikala has just introduced the membership portion to Stages of Fun to help parents play with their kids.
With the membership, each month you will receive a calendar with play ideas, games, songs and stories for kids ages 0-5.
“And so then all you have to do is download the idea and then do that game that day. Or maybe the next day it’s a craft. And it’s all developmentally based on age appropriate. So you’re not going to be doing something super hard with your three-year-old and then everyone’s frustrated. But you’re also like, oh, here’s a song that I can work on their language that I would never have thought of kind of before.”
What is functional playtime?
Essentially functional playtime is the fun play that allows your child to develop specific skills.
You don’t want to, you know, quiz your kids with necessarily like flashcards or you always have to do worksheets for them to learn. Like you can learn colors by throwing different color balls or you can learn letters by trying to find a letter like a race during an obstacle course and put letters at the end of it. You can work on balance by jumping over logs or bouncing balls and working on a hand eye coordination.
Functional playtime is an important guided play that helps your child learn their colors and shapes, but also helps them with their gross motor skills, verbal skills, language, and hand-eye coordination.
This is something that I have struggled with and the reason I was excited to bring Mikala on the podcast.
With a playroom filled with toys, I wanted to make sure that I am buying toys that are functional and won’t add to the clutter of toys.
How to buy the best toys with 3 simple criteria
There are three criteria that Mikala uses to determine if she should buy a toy or not.
Check out the criteria and see if your kids toys check off.
Can be played in several ways
Mikala uses the example of a ball. A ball is a great toy because it can be played with in many different ways.
I can play catch with it. You could play soccer; You can create an obstacle with it; You can make it and knock down towers of blocks. So there’s four different ways I just kind of came up with off the top of my head that you can play with a ball versus a video game kind of directs the play.
Now let’s compare the ball to a video game.
A video game can only be played one way and directs the play.
The video game tells you how to play. Versus the ball, the child directs the play and can use their creativity.
This allows your child to explore and use several skills that can help your child develop.
No batteries needed
But I rarely buy toys with batteries. Very rarely. You’ll find some here in there that are good but, unfortunately, like I was just saying, toys with batteries directed the play, they really promote sedentary play. So sitting and not moving, Which as I’m a physical therapist, I love movement.
Instead of using a tablet to help your child learn colors, use blocks.
Toys with batteries tend to direct play and limit movement.
If the toy has batteries, make sure that the toy can still be played with even if the batteries die.
So, a tablet, for instance, is not a great toy when the batteries die.
The toy can grow with the child
If you are going to spend money on a toy, you definitely want to make sure that it is a toy that your little one can play with for a while.
I rarely buy like let’s say my daughter really likes Princess Sophia. I don’t buy a lot of Princess Sophia toys because next month, right now she likes a monster show. So all at Princess Sophia stuff is no longer useful. It’s no longer wanted to be played with. So I once in awhile I’ll give her something like that. But it’s usually like a doctor set that has Princess Sophia on it or something that will continue to be useful even after the princess Sophia phase per se.
Let’s recap how to buy the best toys for your little one:
- Make sure the toy can be played with in several different ways
- Avoid toys with batteries or make sure the toy can still be played with when the batteries die
- Choose toys that can grow with your child
So if you want to be a great gift giver and be the kind of the proud aunt or cousin or you know, Mama, you want to follow these instructions because every time I give a gift, my gift is played with at that birthday party first.
Simple alternatives to go from boring toy to the best toy ever
There are many toys to choose from. I wanted Mikala to help us identify toys that are not the best and an alternative.
The first toy is a popular bear that is marketed for babies to promote hand eye coordination and help with cause and effect. The problem with this toy is it has runs on batteries and doesn’t really do what it is marketed to do.
Instead of purchasing this toy, Mikala suggest and a sensory ball that has various textures and rolls slowly so that your baby can keep up with it.
Even if it has batteries and lights up, the ball can be used to promote gross motor skills.
For older childern, the popular toy is the tablet.
I totally understand giving the tablet over so that you can have a few minutes of peace and quiet.
But, instead of matching colors on the tablet, try matching colors with blocks.
I would way rather have you buy some plain old wooden blocks, you know, like the, the red and the yellows that are different sized, different colors and different weights because now you can play with those in probably a hundred different ways. That’s helping them with gross motor and fine motor and cognition skills such as like the colors obviously, but numbers and counting and math. And then on top of it, it can also be like building. So working on can this stack on top of this without falling, they start to learn gravity.”
Simple activities to do with older kids
One thing I found, is it’s easier to find toys for babies in particular.
As parents, we start running out of ideas for the older kids that keep them entertained and learn at the same time.
So, I asked Mikala for some help on toys and activities for bigger kids.
You know, I would rather have you go outside with like maybe a booklet and go on a scavenger hunt. Let’s go find one stick. Let’s go find two leaves. Let’s go find 20 rocks. You know, all of a sudden now they have to try to count and actually play with things.
If the weather does not permit you to go outside, there is an alternative that you can do inside.
So let’s say it’s not a nice side outside. You know, you can do that with your balls or you can do that with your blocks Or you can play with Legos. Let’s find four white stars or whatever you have in the house.
Another great activity for bigger kids learning about geography that incorporates those stuffed animals around the house:
Let’s say you can find a map or a globe very easily and then you can kind of talk about that region. And then pull out, we all have a million stuffed animals, right? So let’s say a bunny lives in Europe where, where’s the Europe?
Other skills to need help to prepare your little one for Kindergarten
One thing that I have found is parents want their child to excel in school.
Moms, in particular, will give their little one’s extra activities to help them learn their colors and count before preschool.
But there are other skills that kids need in order to excel in school.
Mikala shared a story of her talking to an occupational therapist who finds many kindergarteners don’t know how to hold a pencil.
This was shocking because this is a basic skill that kids have to know in order to make it in kindergarten.
The occupational therapist called it “iPad hands.” Where the child can point and use their finger well to navigate and complete various activities on an iPad. But if you give a child a maze and have them draw the way out it is a serious challenge because they don’t have the hand strength.
This is why Mikala loves blocks.
Building blocks builds hand strength. Playing on the ground, crawling, builds hand strength. That all prepares a child for writing later on. But if we kind of missed those early on steps, now we’re trying to play catch up once they get into the school aged.
Here are other skills to help your little one with that they need in addition to there cognitive skills:
- Fine motor skills – writing with a pencil, building with playdoh
- Gross motor skills – walking up the stairs
- Activities of daily living – putting on shoes, zipping a zipper
A quick hack if you have a bit of toy craziness like me
One thing that I have struggled with is containing my son’s toys.
At the time of this recording, I had just cleaned out the playroom and filled up 5 trash bags filled with toys to take to Good Will. Mikala gave me some helpful advice to help with the toy madness.
Go through your toys, go get some of those plastic, you know, large totes. Put a third of the toys and the totes and then go put them in the garage or the closet or wherever they are hidden in your child does not get to play with those toys for a month. They only get the toys that are in the room, their room, the living room, etc. But they do not get those ones in the totes. And now a month later, rotate them”
This keeps the toys more organized and also helps bring back the excitement when you bring out the toys they haven’t seen for a month.