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How Can Parents Determine If a Toy Has Educational Value?

How Can Parents Determine If a Toy Has Educational Value?

educational toys


The arrival of the holiday season means that many parents and other adults will be searching for “just right” toys as presents for the children in their families. These well-intentioned shoppers are much more likely to purchase a toy as a gift if it is labeled “educational” or made to look that way. This is because toys that appear educational provide the giver with a sense of investment in a child’s learning and intellectual development as well as their entertainment.

However, determining a toy’s educational value requires more consideration than just trusting the label, wording, or picture on the packaging. Of course, most companies are likely to market to parents with claims that every one of their toys has educational value to increase the odds of purchase. The goal for parents or other adult gift-givers, therefore, is to be armed with a deeper understanding of what makes a toy educational and strategies in how to determine this value for their special child.

What Is Educational Value?

Parents often forget that educational value is not the same as learning outcomes or performance objectives. In other words, a child can memorize answers to multiplication cards but may not understand anything about multiplication itself. Education has value for a child when it is meaningful to them and expands their thinking and/or understanding. Children want, and need, to both explore intellectual, personal, and emotional challenges and experience the meaningful joy and fun of doing so before learning can take place.

Here are some qualities and ways by which a toy or activity can provide true educational value:

  • Encouraging observations of people, places, and the natural world
  • Facilitating connection with others and acknowledgement of diversity
  • Developing gross and/or fine motor skills
  • Enhancing language acquisition and expanding vocabulary
  • Instilling patience and thoughtfulness
  • Evoking cooperation and empathy
  • Stimulating strategic and critical thinking
  • Nurturing self-expression and courage
  • Rewarding curiosity, imagination, and creativity

You’ll notice that there is no mention of academic material or school/grade readiness skills on the above list. That’s because kids spend enough time being taught academic subjects in formal school settings. Toys are meant to provide holistic educational value, and if parents or adult friends and relatives watch closely, they’ll see that children have a natural affinity and instinct for learning multiple things as they play.

Selecting Educational Toys

If your goal is to choose an educational toy as a gift, the best strategy is to focus on what you know of the characteristics and abilities of the individual child. Some considerations would be their age, grade level in school, interests, cultural background, whether they are likely to play independently or with others such as siblings, etc. Educational toys don’t have to be geared toward a certain gender, and they certainly don’t have to expensive, complex, or feature popular/recognizable characters. They can be as simple as an interesting puzzle, board game, art set, or unique book.

Many adults are tempted to purchase electronic toys or games that promise “learning” to read or “improving” math skills. Kids are often drawn to digital media over anything else, and though these toys can have some educational value, it’s often a passive method of learning. It’s important to consider the amount of screen time that kids already take part in each day as well as the fact that most children play electronic games with the intent of beating the game itself and getting to the next level rather than absorbing any actual educational material or developing any further skills.

The most important factor in selecting a toy with educational value is to remember why children enjoy playing in the first place. Kids are naturally curious and imaginative. They play as a means of safely exploring who they are, the world around them, and how it works. Any gift that encourages this exploration and stimulates their thinking has educational value.

Of course, one of the best ways to ensure that a toy or product has educational value for your child is to search for those created by experienced developers, offering activities that are stimulating, challenging, and fun. At Cognisprings, we support parents looking for educational toys with games, books, and puzzles that are thoughtfully designed to uniquely enhance children’s critical thinking, imagination, and curiosity. Our products allow families to connect and learn with each other. In fact, we prioritize toys that encourage screen-free fun, healthy cognitive development, creativity, and learning skills—all of which ensures educational value!