As adults, I think we sometimes underestimate how important play time is for kids. A lot of the time the focus is on education and activities more than free play time – but free play teaches little ones so many skills, especially when they’re playing with great toys that help them learn while they play.
Did you know that VTech – the folks who created products like the InnoTab (my 9-year-old’s favorite toy) and the Go! Go! Smart Wheels learning toys – works with a panel of children’s learning experts when they develop their toys? The Expert Panel helps VTech continue their commitment to building on children’s knowledge, one milestone at a time! There are six experts on the Expert Panel, including Dr. Lise Eliot, an Early Childhood Mental Development Expert who collaborated with VTech to develop the Milestones resource. Check out this video featuring Dr. Eliot as she introduces viewers to Milestones. Not only that, but they share the information with parents by way of the Milestones resource on their website.
The Milestones resource offers parents guidelines and recommendations to help them select toys based on their children’s individual needs. The Milestones are broken down by age (from newborn up to age 9), and each age range looks at three separate learning categories: Language & Cognitive, Social & Emotional Development, and Physical & Motor. Each of these categories explains the characteristics and developments that your child faces at the specified age, and then offers recommended products that best cater to your child. The Expert Panel and the Milestones resource help VTech create beneficial and age appropriate toys (that, as my children illustrate, are incredibly fun as well as educational!)
Dr. Eliot answered questions presented to her by some parents, and this is a great question (and an interesting answer):
Q. How do doctors come up with specific milestones for each age group? What are some milestones for older age groups (up to age 9)?
A. Infant developmental milestones have been cataloged by studying thousands of babies from all walks of life. In healthy children, the various milestones emerge in a predictable sequence and time, give or take a few weeks or months. This predictable pattern is due to the maturation sequence of the developing brain, along with the typical sequence of practice most babies engage in, given their gradually growing strength and coordination. Some milestones you can look for as your child gets older include: able to draw a circle at age 3, asking lots of “Why” questions at age 4, knowing his or her letters at age 5, tying shoes at age 6, reading aloud fluently at age 7, and a big spurt of social independence beginning at 8-9 .
When I click on the 18-24 month age range, I can see typical milestones for children of my youngest son’s age (Taylor is 20 months old). One particularly fun milestone that Taylor recently reached is the ability to say “NO!” to everything. (Yes, the word “fun” there is written in a sarcasm font). Not only that, but when you thwart his toddler plans, he’s developed the necessary skills to throw a proper tantrum, complete with hurling himself to the ground kicking and screaming. Thankfully, according to the Milestones resource for his age range, Taylor’s behavior falls within the normal expectations for his age as toddlers struggle for contentment but also want independence.
I also keep a close eye on Taylor’s language development. As the mom of a 9-year-old with autism who’s primarily non-verbal, one of my first tip-offs that Braeden wasn’t developing typically was that he never started babbling, nor did he start using words by the age that most other kids did. Because I was already familiar with autism and its signs (my 14-year-old son also has autism, although he’s very verbal and able to attend general education 9th grade classes with supports), I was able to access early intervention programs for Braeden.
While he hasn’t yet started putting two words together to make short sentences, Taylor has a lot of single words (I actually keep a list), and he loves “filling in the blanks” when we sing or read stories together. You can click here to check out the Milestones resource on VTech’s website for your own child(ren). Make sure you connect with VTech on Facebook & Twitter too! What milestones are your kids hitting right now? What toys and activities do you use to help them keep learning and progressing?
I’ve gotta tell you, we’re actually a VTech family from way back. My first child was born in 1996, and one of the toys we still have from his childhood is the VTech Little Smart Alphabet Desk. I don’t remember how old he was when he received it, or even whom he received it from, but 18 or so years later, this great little educational toy has recently been passed on to kiddo #4.
Kiddo #4 himself (Taylor) absolutely adores his Cora the Smart Cub – or, as my husband and I call her, Cora the Magical Night-Night Bear. Seriously, I wish I’d had one of these bears when my older three kids were little! We actually bought a second Smart Cub for Taylor to keep in his bedroom- Cora’s brother, Cody the Smart Cub. (The only difference between the bears is that one is pink and the other is blue; they even have the same voice). And then we bought a second Cora Bear after Taylor loved the first one to death. Here’s a rare picture of the three of them together:
VTech generously sent us some of their newer toys to play with, and I’m not at all surprised that Taylor loves all three of the toys we received.
He’s actually sitting here next to me playing with his new Roll & Surprise Animal Train (MSRP: $15.99) as I write this. Designed from children from 6-36 months, the Roll & Surprise Animal Train has animal friends that introduce animal names, animal sounds, and colors. Taylor can play peek-a-boo with the animals while also developing fine motor skills as he turns, slides, or presses to make the animals pop up. He also gets an introduction to cause and effect as he interacts with the toy and makes things happen by his actions. And it toots and chugs when you use the string to pull it along the floor!
We also received the Lil’ Critters Play & Dream Musical Piano (MSRP: $24.99)– oh my goodness, what a fun little toy! This is a soft piano that can be attached to your child’s crib or used on the floor. It has five animal piano keys that introduce music, instruments, and animals, and there’s a light-up sun that flashes to the music (and Taylor, despite being older than the recommended 0-12 month age range for this toy), LOVES music and flashy lights. There are also buttons that can be pushed or slid to play 15 minutes of music (the Rabbit plays playful music, and the Owl plays soothing music), plus a roller ball that also plays music and makes fun sounds. And there are two modes of play for learning and music activities. AND there are lovely crinkly dangly bits (which Taylor also loves). With so much to do, Taylor isn’t likely to get bored with this toy anytime soon.
The third toy we received is the Chomp & Count Dino (MSRP: $19.99), a fun guy who encourages Taylor to feed him the eight colored play pieces that accompany him. He actually recognizes each piece that he chomps, too! Taylor is just starting to get interested in numbers (he can count to three consistently, and loves it when we count fingers and toes), so the counting mode (there’s also a food mode) is a lot of fun for him.
The Chomp & Count Dino, who’s recommended for kids from 12-36 months, also has five shape buttons to help kids learn shapes and numbers, plus a disc on his back that plays sing-along songs when Taylor spins it (in addition to responding with words and phrases when he chomps the play pieces). There’s even a question button that kids can press and then answer the Dino’s questions to show off what they’ve learned. This is also a push/pull toy, with wheels on the bottom and a string so Taylor can pull him along (which prompts even more songs).
And speaking of songs and melodies – another bonus to VTech toys? Most of them (possibly all of them, at least the baby and toddler toys) come with volume control buttons with loud, soft, and off! You don’t even realize what a crucial component of a children’s toy that feature is until you have a toddler who LOVES repetition. (As he should, since that’s one of the ways little folks learn, but oh my goodness, mommy’s tolerance for it only extends so far… if only toddlers themselves came with the same button!)
Is there a kid in your life who’d love to play with these toys? One lucky reader is going to win all three of the same super-fun toys that Taylor got to play with! This giveaway is open to U.S. residents only and ends December 14, 2014 (11:59pm EST).
DISCLOSURE: The VTech product, information, and giveaway have been provided by VTech. I received one or more of the items mentioned herein free for review purposes; nonetheless, all opinions expressed are my own unless noted otherwise. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 Guides, Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising. Dividing by Zero is not responsible for prize fulfillment; the sponsor is responsible for shipping the prizes to the winner’s valid address (no PO Boxes). Your information will not be sold or shared; it is used by the blog owner only and solely for verification/prize fulfillment.