REVIEWED BY NUMBERDYSLEXIA’S MEDICAL REVIEW PANEL ON SEPTEMBER 06, 2020
“Activities that are freely chosen and directed by children and arise from intrinsic motivation” – Miller and Almon (2006). This line extracted from a research summary on play and learning, The Power of Play, defines the play in a very comprehensive manner. It shows that children love to play without requiring any motivation from external agencies. What if this motivation is directed at imparting the learning of basic skills? The idea sounds interesting and seems to have been applied the most relevantly in toys.
We, human beings, have the instinct to explore and learn. Right from an early age, this instinct shows its presence. When a child tries to put the rings in the stack or to listen to the sound coming from a rattle toy this instinct comes out remarkably. The toys, therefore, offer an attractive tool that can be used to build cognitive skills in kids as small as 2-3 years old.
What exactly are cognitive skills?
Cognitive skills or cognition is defined as ” the ability to reason, plan, solve problems, think abstractly, comprehend complex ideas, learn quickly and learn from experience” (Gottfredson, 1997, p. 13). – As explained in the book, The Creative Self.
Taking a cue from this definition, cognitive abilities in 2-year old children enable them to:
a. recognize basic gestures such as nods, nudges, etc.
b. recognize the shape, size, and color of objects
c. follow simple instructions like ” go and bring your toys”, “come and eat”, etc.
d. understand the concept of time – ‘after lunch’, ‘before going to bed’, etc.
e. pretend and imitate
Let’s explore how toys can help in developing these cognition abilities.
Role of toys in building basic Cognitive skills of 2 years old
There are various researches that link the child’s developmental theories to the use of toys. According to these theories, toys offer a dependable and engaging tool for:
1. Cognitive development – Jean Piaget’s theory of cognitive development proposes that children think differently than adults. They want to participate in the learning process rather than being fed with concepts. They are no less than small scientists who want to try and test, and build experiences. Toys offer the correct tool to do so.
2. Learning and developing concepts – Vyogotsky principles on ZPD and scaffolding suggest that the children tend to imitate adults and learn from them. There are certain things they learn using help, and others which they can learn without help. Toys help kids take the leap from learning with help to learning on own.
3. Building social cognition – Make-believe roleplays as suggested in Pretense: The form and function of make-believe play, by Inge Bretherton help kids develop imaginative abilities. The toys that are based on story-telling methods allow kids to adopt roles and understand the difference between them and the other contingents of their surroundings.
4. Understanding emotions – With the help of pretense mentioned in point ‘c’, kids also are able to identify emotions like happiness and sadness. The cause-effect toys come with a challenge. When they accomplish something, they are happy and they become frustrated when the desired outcome is not obtained. Thus, toys can be used to build emotional cognition, too, in children.
How to use toys for cognitive development?
The basic function of toys is to stimulate the mind and to make it aware of the self and the surroundings. Thus, the following approaches are helpful in employing toys for building cognitive skills in 2-year-old kids:
1. Create a visual version of an outcome
Kids are inclined to try playing with a toy when they know what to expect at the end. The outcome is a sort of target or challenge. So, when you give them sorting cups, tell them in advance that they are making a castle, for example.
2. Give an auditory introduction
This is applicable when the toys produce some sort of sound on pressing a button or pulling some lever. Since the idea is not to startle the kid but to give an idea of how the toy will function, telling about the type of sound incites curiosity.
Pulling some part or pushing a button in the toy gives them a sense of doing and learning by themselves.
3. Participate in the process instead of judging
Especially, when you are using toys for developing motor skills or to tell about social cognition, you have to become part of the play plan. Kids learn a lot by imitating you and use the toy exactly as per its intended purpose when you participate and show how to play.
Also, it prevents kids from feeling judged and builds confidence in them as they feel being a part of the process.
Some points to consider to achieve better outcomes from toys
Toys, as a learning resource or teaching materials, can offer an effective tool if you take certain points into consideration:
1. Create conditions to improve engagement: It is possible to achieve by designing a play area with minimal distractions. If there are too many toys, the child will find it difficult to concentrate and grasp the intended concept.
2. Make feasible challenges to increase interest: If you want the child to pay attention and remain engaged in the toy, you must start with easy challenges first. The growing complexity of challenges should correspond with the progression in the learning curve.
3. Give ample practice or assign a schedule: By assigning a schedule, kids prepare themselves mentally for the challenges toys are going to offer in the playtime. The recall of concepts comes naturally to kids when the toys are played in an assigned time.
Also, practicing is the key to perfection. So, allowing kids to play with toys repeatedly can help in boosting cognitive skills, which are the prime objective of using toys as a teaching support for training a 2-year old kid.
Toys offer a continuous and expanding process for building cognitive skills in kids 2+ years of age. These prove to be effective learning materials when kids derive lots of knowledge about the self, the peers, and their surroundings. Also, with cause-effect mechanism, they develop emotional and social cognition, and groom to become more aware individuals with required cognitive capabilities.
- Elkind, D. (2007). The power of play: How spontaneous imaginative activities lead to happier, healthier children. Da Capo Press
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