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The Toy Diet All Kids Need Through a Pandemic and Beyond

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Article written by Jamie Davis Smith

View on Medium.com here

Whether kids are at home playing after school or all day because of a global pandemic or just a rainy day, play is an important part of how kids learn and develop. Experts recommend a toy diet to ensure that children have access to toys that promote imagination, creativity, building, and stay active.

With more time at home, playgrounds and sports off limits, and school and extracurricular activities canceled for the foreseeable future now is a good time to be more thoughtful about the toys you have around the house and how you can use them to promote learning through play.

Creative Play:

It is so important to allow kids to stretch their imaginations while home from school and away from friends. Kids of all ages love Playmobil because of its opportunity for open-ended play, like the Mars Space Station that provides opportunities for kids to imagine exploring other worlds, even ones without COVID-19. Or, let them create their own storyline from a favorite show with a Scooby Doo set that both kids and their parents know and love, making it the perfect playset that everyone can enjoy.

This adorable plush HESS firetruck lets even young children imagine they are driving around town helping those in need. When your child needs a change this plush truck also lights up and plays songs like “The Wheels on the Bus” and “If You’re Happy and You Know It.”

Now more than ever kids are very aware of healthy bodies and how to keep them away. Getting a medical kit can help them face their fears and be in control. Have a Little Medical School in your living room while kids learn about the body with a hands-on doll, real stethoscope, and lessons. Give your child their (Little) Medical School diploma when they graduate. Older children will like this Hand2Mind Stem Jr. Head to Toe Human Body Experiments kit teaches kids as young as five about how the body works through hands-on experiments.

Sequence for Kids has almost 600 5-star reviews because this no-reading-required strategy game can be played in under 10 minutes yet pushes kids to think creatively about strategy and is fun for both kids and grown-ups. Or, play a game that is a sign of the times like the Virus card game that does not require reading but does require finding a healthy body to stop the pandemic.

Building:

Building is often the foundation of early STEM skills for children who learn basic skills like balance and stability through building towers and bridges. There are so many ways to expand a child’s interest in building with toys beyond basic blocks.

Magna-Tiles are a must-have in many early childhood classrooms because of the endless opportunities they provide for open-ending building and because they allow kids to build more complex structures as they get older. These new Eric Carle inspired Magna-Tiles are an adorable new twist that add even more possibilities to the classic toy. Plus-Plus is a unique interlocking system of small and lightweight pieces resembling plus signs that can be used in an astonishing number of ways. Add on more sets as kids grow. LEGOs are a classic building toy and there is something for all ages and stages, from big Dulos for little ones to superhero, city, and Friends sets for older kids. Of course, once the sets are built the sets can be taken apart and built again completely differently. Keva Planks are a simple building toy popular in schools and museums because the smooth maple planks are ideal for endless building challenges from houses to towers. They are great for kids of all ages because the complexity of building grows along with the child.

Art:

There is no shortage of ways to get creative from simple crayons and sidewalk chalk to color mixing kits and high-end crafting machines.

The Crayola Color Chemistry Kit is a great activity for siblings that involves lots of mixing of colors combined with artistic activities and even a power that turns into crystals. This kit combines creativity with learning about art fundamentals with plenty of activities for multiple children to use to create.

For a mess free activity that promotes creativity try this affordable Light Up Tracing Pad that kids can use to hone their drawing skills and use over and over again to trace anything that catches their eye. Once quarantine ends the light-up pad makes an ideal on-the-go toy that can be used in the car for a long-awaited reunion with the Grandparents or well-earned vacation.

This Delta Art Easel is the perfect unobtrusive easel to set up wherever you need to keep your child occupied. This easel has it all from a chalkboard to a near endless roll of paper for drawing or painting and a magnetic whiteboard that can be used with the included magnetic alphabet or any magnets you have on hand. It even has storage bins included to store your little artist’s supplies. This easel has two sides so it can be used by siblings at the same time.

Cupixel is an innovative art studio in a box. Download an image of your own or help your child choose one from the app. Choose your color palate then follow the detailed and surprisingly easy to follow instructions to paint your own masterpiece. Your child can create a unique gift for someone they miss, a special quarantine keepsake, or something for themselves.

Yoobi Washable Paint is a great way to allow kids to create mess-free. Use this paint indoors or out and wash away anything that does not wind up on paper, including any that winds up on little bodies.

This bracelet making kit with tons of beads for under $6.00 will keep kids busy for hours — on their own. Best of all, every member of the family can proudly wear their new jewelry for days on end without fear that it’s not office appropriate.

For another bracelet kit perfect for tweens and teens who would like something a little more polished, try JTV Jewelry’s Akola Karatasi Build-Your-Own-Bracelet Kit that comes with everything your budding jewelry maker needs to create a couture look-alike complete with rainbow beads and tassels with a designer look.

With no real-life friends able to come over for playdates, dolls can play a more central role in play during quarantine. This is a good time to introduce a new girl (or boy) into the family. Add on an activity like the American Girl Bowling Alley or the Truly Blue Hairstyling Caddy (that can be used with any 18” doll) and enjoy the hours of peace you will have as your child happily exercises their imagination on their own.

For serious crafters, a Glowforge is a great investment. This powerhouse can engrave everything from wood to chocolate. Create your own designs and even use this machine to start a side business parents and kids can work on together making signs, custom candy, or just about anything you can dream up.

Stay Active:

Even when kids are not cooped up at home either because of a global pandemic or a rainy day play that encourages physical fitness is an important part of building good habits and

DribbleUp has unique soccer and basketball smart balls that use an app to give kids who miss their coach and give instant feedback. Access to all of the app’s content, plus regular live sessions, are included with purchase. Balls can be used indoors or out. This is a great way to not just stay active but hone existing skills or develop new ones so that your child can come out of quarantine at the top of their game.

This is a great time to revisit classic camp games, considering camp may be a no-go this year. The Baden Champions Volleyball Net comes with a net that is easy to set up in the yard and a volleyball so it’s ready to go right out of the box. When you are done playing, the net rolls up and goes into a carrying bag so it will be ready for action once beaches and parks are open again. If tennis is more your speed, this On Court Off Court portable tennis net is a great solution for being able to play in the driveway or alley that folds up quickly and gets the heart pumping while hitting the ball. Once your game is over, just pack it away until next time. Once you can, bring the net along to the next picnic or block party.

The Ollyball has a unique inflatable design so that the ball can be used indoors or out. It’s a great way to get kids active even when they are stuck inside. Plus, the ball can be colored in by kids who want to claim the ball as their own and ensure it is unlike any other.

Bike riding is a great way to hone kids’ balance and gross motor skills. When outings are otherwise limited bike riding is one of the few ways to safely get outside and exercise away from home for any length of time — and it’s fun so you won’t get any pushback from the kids. This is a great time to invest in a sturdy new bike like the easy-to-ride and super low-maintenance Priority Bicycles Start Bike that is rust and grease free. Add on an adult bike for more (active) family fun! Or, for something a little different if you want to go on longer bike rides with a buddy along check out the Schwinn Twin tandem bicycle that is quite literally a bicycle built for two.

A good old-fashioned dance party is a great way to keep bodies moving even when stuck indoors. The Google Nest Mini puts on a dance party or can start up a game of musical chairs activated only by your voice. Or, to add some laughs, check out Boppi The Botty Shaking Llama and dance along with the very energetic little creature for a good workout for everyone.

No PE? No problem. Check out the Antsy Pants Balance Beam and Gym Mat for developing gross motor skills right in the living room. This on-the-ground balance beam and well-cushioned fold-up mat will keep kids active throughout quarantine and beyond.

This penny board style Del Sol Skateboard is not just a good choice for kids just learning how to skate. Not only is it a smooth ride but it changes from white to purple in the sun to get kids excited about taking it outside for some exercise and fresh air.

The Boredom Relief Kit from Buena Onda games has three games that can be played indoors or out thanks to the soft construction of the balls in the mini-bocci set and the Yippi Yappa set that can be used to play over a dozen games, and a MayaFlya Disc. Because these games are all soft they can be played inside or out and by young children who can’t be trusted around hard bocci balls.

Giant bubbles create hours of fun — and require kids to stay active. South Beach WOWMAzing Bubbles are captivating for kids and are surprisingly calming to watch for kids and grown-ups alike. The only downside is that regular bubbles may start to seem boring.

The award-winning Pop n’Pass has two open baskets attached to sticks that players use to catch balls that literally “pop” out of the baskets. This game is quick to catch onto and keeps players active as the move strategically to catch the ball. Best of all, this game is fun for kids and adults.

A good old fashion ball is a fail-proof way of getting kids and parents to get moving. This Adidas Soccer Ball comes in multiple sizes for kids of all ages. Kicking a ball around is a great way for kids and their gown-ups to get their wiggles out or blow off steam when struck by cabin fever.

Water balloon fights should be included in any list of ways to stay active at home. Grab a Bunch o’ Balloons that allow you to fill up 100 balloons in about a minute for a long afternoon of running around the yard getting exercise and staying cool. Or try some mega water guns like the Zuru X-Shot Water Guns: Fills fast and holds more water than just about any other water gun out there so you are stopping every two minutes to refill.

Education:

Does your child have some time on her hands? Does he miss sports? Try starting a collection of Topps Baseball Cards and brush up on stats while waiting for the season (any season) to start. These are not just fun to collect but can also be used to teach math concepts, geography and baseball history since each box comes with some throw-back cards.

Pete the Cat: Hot Dots I Love Kindergarten! is a great tool for younger kids to use to practice concepts like matching, sounds, colors, and more. Using the included Hot Dots pen, kids get instant feedback on their answer by watching to see if Pete lights up red or green. This is a great activity for kids to do on their own or with a parent or sibling.

Headphones aren’t strictly educational on their own but Buddy Phones are an essential tool to help with those online classes and/or educational videos. These headphones contain the sound while ensuring that kids never get the volume up to hearing-damaging levels.

For your budding scientist check out this Beaker Creatures Reactor Lab set that shows reactions and has beakers and other lab equipment needed to complete the included hands-on experiments with a distinctly Beaker Creature theme.

Kids may have read about how caterpillars turn into butterflies, but this Insect Lore kit shows kids how butterflies are born right before their very eyes. There is no better way of learning about the life cycle of these amazing creatures than to watch the caterpillars who arrive by mail grow, change, and eventually fly away.

ABCs are fundamental and this HABA magnetic Alphabet Game that comes complete in its own tin is the perfect toy to pull out to help kids learn their letters and spelling. It comes complete with both upper and lowercase letters as well as photos of things like a cup and fox to help encourage kids to sound and spell. Plus, once the world opens up again you will have a compact learning game that can be brought anywhere.

Use your kids’ favorite characters to draw them in. Practice fine motor and pre-writing skills with Elsa or Lighting McQueen with a Disney Learning Trace With Me pad that encourages practice of movements and shapes that are commonly used in forming letters. Or, try a standards-based Magical Adventure Workbook based on grade level with over 200 match and language arts activities

Telescope: Just because you can’t go further than your backyard doesn’t mean you can’t explore. Recreate nights spent staring at the stars by Destinations beyond the reach of viruses run amok are visible through a backyard telescope made especially for kids like this one from National Geographic that allows you to see the surface of the moon. Or, check out a telescope from Celestron that can grow with your budding astronomer like the StarSense that is app enabled to make it easier to find stars and planets — and can even tell you what’s in the sky based on your exact time and location.

Books are a must have. Check out Hurry Up, A Book A Book About Slowing Down by Kate Dopirak that is perfect for a time when the entire world is slowing down.

Make Time for Relaxation:

Kids also need some downtime. It’s not always possible to head to the playground to swing but a hammock can be a great way to encourage kids to get outdoors and rock back and forth or This hammock from Costway has a beautiful arced wooden stand and neutral hammock that goes well with any yard. Plus, it’s just as useful for Mom and Dad to relax in as well.

Another great way for anxious kids to relax and deal with their fears is with a simple chewy necklace from Anje & Ashe they can bring with them anywhere to have some comfort no matter where they go.

There is something about sitting by the fire as a family that encourages everyone to unwind, whether the goal is to make s’mores, roast hot dogs, or just create a magical atmosphere. The BioLite is a great choice for families because the flame can be controlled and it’s smokeless. Plus, once it’s possible to leave your yard the grill is portable.

Another great way for anxious kids to relax and deal with their fears is with a simple chewy necklace from Anje & Ashe they can bring with them anywhere to have some comfort no matter where they go.

Little ones need to kick back and relax too. The Regalo play yard with cover is the perfect solution to bring young kids outdoors because it’s roomy and has a cover that provides protection from the sun. It can also be used indoors when parents need a break.

Contain the Clutter:

It’s a near-universal truth that quarantine equals clutter. Now is a great time to pick up a new piece of furniture or two to help contain the mess and maintain your sanity. The KidKraft storage unit fits a ton of things and keeps it organized with the included bins. Once quarantine ends and the kids are a little older remove the bins for a more grown-up look. Another good option is the completely open Delta Gateway Ladder Shelf that allows kids to see everything to help keep the mess to a minimum. Plus, it’s beautiful so will fit in well with décor outside of the playroom and last beyond quarantine.

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