You have probably purchased or been gifted beautiful, exciting toys only to have them utterly ignored by your child. Children can be uninterested in toys for a variety of reasons. As parents, you get to play detective and figure out where the misfire is between your child and the toy you’ve chosen.
If it’s presented at holiday time, a toy can be easily overlooked in the wash of other new things or the rush of holiday festivities. Finding a way to set these gifts aside to be introduced later individually may be all that’s needed to spark your child’s play. It could be that a toy will be more engaging when your child has a playmate, and you might save it for the next time a friend is coming over. Perhaps, your child could use a little help initiating a new type of play, so you get a chance to help set up a barnyard, dress a new doll, or try out the new paints. And it could simply be that your child will be more interested in the toy when they are just a bit older. There is an art to giving toys to children; you watch where their interests are heading and try to give them just the thing to spur their imagination. You note their challenges and find the thing to encourage their problem solving and development. And you try not to inundate them with too many and too much.
One tip for parents is to choose toys based on your experience with your child. Even when you check age recommendations, you have to balance this against what you know about your child and your home. What follows are some thoughts regarding broad categories of toys and windows when you might find your child most readily engaged by them.
Blocks are commonly given to children when they are too young to really appreciate them. Babies and toddlers might enjoy a few, but larger sets might do better tucked away until your child is three or four. A six-year-old who is not already bored by blocks can do truly amazing things. A nine-year-old who does not think of them as a baby toy might incorporate them into an endless array of worlds and structures. Adding a few smaller blocks or more dynamic shapes as you see your child beginning to construct worlds for play might spark even more varied play.
It is also easy to give a young child a doll that is too much for them. Until around 5, most children will be happy with the flowing form of a handkerchief-type doll. It is easy to imagine this doll as baby, mother, father or even witch. The more formed dolls often appeal more to slightly older children, who begin deliberately acting out their experiences with the doll. Some children do engage much earlier with dolls, especially baby dolls, so this is another time to watch your child and see what type of doll will meet their needs as they play.
Toy kitchens, play stands, and dollhouses are also toys that many children will gravitate to at a later age. These kindergarten and first-grade children are more likely to structure their pretending in a way to make use of these things. While a three-year-old might enjoy “making soup”, a couple of six-year-olds could develop whole stories, integrating not only their life experience but stories from books and their imaginations. These sorts of play structures offer a way for children to shift more completely into their imaginative space where they can work out the problems and puzzles of their world.
Finally, if a toy is languishing on your child’s shelf, go ahead and put it away. You can watch your child and choose a different moment to present the toy. Even a month or so later, the toy will feel new and fresh, and your child may now be ready to discover the fun inside.