3 Reasons Why Character Toys are Good for Kids
Princess Elsa from Frozen, Woody from Toy Story, Spiderman, Thomas the Tank Engine, Peppa Pig and Minions... these are all characters with which parents have become well familiar. Some of us love them... and some of us are somewhat less enthusiastic about them. Whilst they may not fall in-line with the 'classic', 'educational' toys that well-wishing parents often prefer, character-based toys can actually have significant benefits for your child, as you will read about below.
If they don't like it, they won't play with it. If they don't play with it, what benefit will they get out of it? Probably not very much. So, whilst those stunning all-natural wooden building blocks have a great learning potential (not to mention that are absolutely gorgeous to have in the nursery), your child won't reap the benefits unless they actually want to engage with them.
Choosing toys and games that children like is a very valuable tool in the Speech Pathologist's belt. When we find out that a child loves play-dough, we introduce it in therapy sessions. When we find out that the child looks up to 'Frozen's' Elsa, we come up with a way to introduce her into therapy sessions. Why? Because children learn best when they are enjoying themselves. When your child enjoys a toy, they access the benefits of play, of which there are very many, including language development.
2. Pretend Play
Character toys provide a rich opportunity for children to engage in pretend play. Pretend play is a very important skill and tool in language development. As most children narrate their play (talk out loud), they learn transform their ideas into words. They practice using vocabulary, building sentences and creating 'conversation'.
Play with character toys can also be a good way to introduce pretend play for children that are just getting into it, or struggling to get the grasp of it. The characters have well-established stories behind them that children are already familiar with and this can provide a good starting point. E.g. a child can pick up a Fireman Sam figurine and say, 'Fire! There's a fire!'
Pretend play with characters is also a great time for parents to join in and shape play into an extension of story-telling, by following the character's storyline.
3. Literacy Development
Character-themed toys/games/books provide valuable opportunities for literacy development. When children watch the film or show that they're interested in, they are essentially experiencing 'storytelling'. Similar to reading a book that they enjoy, children are exposed to a story line, development of characters, a plot including a 'problem' and a resolution and often a moral 'message'.
By extending this experience through play with character toys or books (i.e. book 'versions' of the show/film), children engage in the richness of the literacy experience here. They learn the pattern of narratives (stories), they practice comprehension (understanding what is happening), they explore 'themes' e.g. to always 'look out for' your friends (Toy Story) etc. In a sense, character play is a way of bringing a story to life, and lights the path for building those early literacy skills.
So get out those Elsa's, Minions, Thomas and his friends, jump in muddy puddles with Peppa and explore with Dora. Remeber, children learn through play. So let them play with things that they love.