Toys can do more than entertain. Priscila Caçola, assistant professor of kinesiology in the UT Arlington College of Nursing and Health Innovation, has published research showing how specific toys and items in the home can help children develop motor skills.
When it comes to a baby’s development, which toy you buy might matter less than where you put it.
“For toys it’s all about variety,” says Caçola. “I see lots of people who have wonderful toys but if you put them in their rooms, in shelves that they’re never going to reach, it’s not going to be good for them. They need to be able to reach it.”
Hear that? Toys on the floor are approved! UT Arlington kinesiology professor, Priscila Caçola published research in the journal Physical Therapy on how different types of toys affect an infant’s motor skills, as well as how to best arrange the house for a baby to play in. She says if you think about it, the home is a baby’s playground, and whether there’s space to move and walk is crucial for development.
“We don’t develop motor skills as a birthday presents,” she jokes. “Babies don’t walk because they turn one. They walk because they’ve pulled themselves up on the coffee table, and they have tried to do a few steps, they have fallen many times, so they’re ready to do that. So the home is what offers all these opportunities for learning.”
In addition to some simple rearranging of furniture – say putting a gap between the coffee table and the couch so babies have to learn to crawl, Caçola says you can encourage babies to move with toys.
She brought in three examples of toys for different age groups that she likes.
- The first toy, called the SnugaMonkey, is for three-to thirty-six month olds. Caçola says the small musical toy with wheels its good for babies who are still on “tummy time” — there’s a mirror and monkey to stare at, as well as for kids learning to crawl.
- The second toy is an $8.00 stacking toy – a basic ring toss for babies at least 6 months old. This one, Caçola says, allows kids to learn to use different grips. It also encourages bimanual coordination— using both hands at the same time. “For us it’s very easy to do this, but for a little baby their brain is figuring out how to transfer information from one side to the other,” Caçola says.
- The third toy is a classic, introduced back in 1962 as the Chatter Phone, it was originally designed to teach kids how to make a phone call. Nowadays, babies are primarily learning how to swipe with smart phones. Actually spinning the rotary, Caçola says, helps infants develop finger dexterity. And, it teaches them a little lesson about how difficult it used to be to make a phone call.