Toys & child development

There are a variety of toys in the market that can enhance intellectual, social, emotional, and/or physical development. Such toys allow learning such as pre-math skills and hand-eye coordination, writes Nanjinia Wamuswa

Like many mothers looking to incorporate fun in the development of her child’s gross and fine motor skills, Sophia Mbui bought various toys for her two children, Muthandi Mbui Wanjigi and Maina Mbui Wanjigi.

Having realised that play is the mechanism by which children learn — how they experience their world, practice new skills, and internalise new ideas — and is therefore the essential “work of children”, she set out to buy them all sorts of toys she deemed fit for their age.

However, as they grew older, Sophia further noticed the two boys preferred motorcycles over other toys such as cars, puzzles, books, animals, aeroplanes, human soldiers and teddy bears. The other toys remained untouched for long, which forced her to give them out to children of her relatives.

Focused fun

“After this realisation I stopped wasting money purchasing toys that did not interest them. Every time I took them to toy shops, they would pick BMX motorcycles. These are the toys I have been buying them since then,” she says.

Sophia, 40, a lawyer by profession had no idea her children were building sports careers out of liking toy motorbikes.

Today, Muthambi 14 and Maina ten are already making headlines in motorcycle racing, commonly known as motocross. Recently Muthambi and Maina were part of a team that represented the country in an international motocross competition held in Kampala, Uganda.

She says: “All signals show they have chosen motocross as their sports, and perhaps careers too.”

Mercy Bosire’s daughter, Michelle developed a penchant for toy aeroplanes at a tender age, despite having plenty of other toys at her disposal.

Early this year Michelle, ten, and in Class Four pestered her parents to take her to see ‘the real big’ aeroplane.

“We gave in to her desires and took her to Wilson Airport to see aeroplanes. She was extremely delighted and vowed to become a pilot,” her parents disclosed.

However, her parents are not sure whether Michelle is genuine with her dream of becoming a pilot or it is just childish whims. But they encourage her to work hard if she wants to fly a plane.

Playing with toys is a continuous and expanding process, which with early skills give rise to new ones and new experiences are integrated with previous ones. Through play, children learn about the world and engage in activities that encourage their cognitive, emotional, and social development.

For example, when a child bangs on a drum, she learns she can create a sound. Through play, she learns the important concept of cause and effect. And with time they develop a skill that can see them become percussionist.

Parents are hence required to intentionally select toys that meet a child’s unique needs.

Although toys are provided to children largely to entertain them as they play and keep them busy, they, however, proffer plenty of other benefits in the child’s development life.

Dr Ken Ouko, a Sociologist at the University of Nairobi says toys play an important role in children’s development.

“Depending on the type of toys received and preferred, a child is able to craft his or her thinking around the construct of the toy. In many cases, toys have shaped ‘career affinity’ in children making them feel suited to be associated with specific careers represented by the toy,” says Dr Ouko.

Citing Maina and Muthambi motocross case, Dr Ouko says many people have developed careers in the same way. He challenges Michelle’s parents to provide her with the environment that would make her realise her flying dream career.

“The little girl (Michelle) might be very serious about flying. After all, her mind seems fixed on planes. Time will tell,” says Dr Ouko.


It is through playing with toys that children grow and learn about the world around them. Toys help them to discover their identity; bodies grow strong, explore relationships and practice skills they will need as adults.

Dr Ouko advises parents to buy their children toys because they make them feel appreciated. Their sense of self worth and esteem are greatly boosted by the gesture.

Having appreciated the importance of toys, every parent should provide toys to her children. Toys can be purchased or improvised using locally available material such as carton boxes, which can make toy houses, cars, buses and lorries.

He also says toys help a child to play, which relaxes the child and enhances his or her development both physically and psychologically. And some toys form basis for friendships, especially where they help each other to build block or sand castles among others.

Sophia who has watched her children develop to become feted sports children advises parents to pay attention as their children play with toys and thus nurture their preferences.

Toys can be divided into several groups, depending on the part of the child it helps to develop. For example, toys that help develop gross motor skills, which involves greater movement such as running and jumping that use the larger muscle are wagons, bikes, brooms, and shovels.

Other toys are used to develop the sensory system of touch, sight, sound, taste and smell. Such toys include water toys, musical instruments, bubbles, play dough, and sand toys.

There also exist toys that are used for make-believe and social development such as dolls, dress-up clothes, cars, trucks, games, and books. And finally toys for creative and intellectual development, for example, clay, crayons, paints, books, paper, and scissors.

Toys for different ages

Infants need bright-coloured toys of various textures and making distinctive sounds, which are washable, non-breakable, and have no sharp edges that might cut or scratch. They should not have small-attached pieces that could be pulled off and swallowed.

?Toddlers are active and need toys for climbing, running and jumping. They also are interested in doing things with their hands as the small muscles in their fingers become more developed. Toddlers also are interested in sensory materials such as paint, play dough, crayons, and chalk.

Physical play

Preschool are dramatic, creative and need toys that propagate cooperation. They are interested in active physical play and also increasingly curious about the world around them. Realistic toys such as farm and animal sets, grocery store prop boxes, model cars, and trains will be good for them.

Early school-age children are involved in active games and will need ball games, biking, swimming, and hiking. There is also an increased interest in table games that require two or more players. These include games that use simple number skills and increased co-ordination. Toys should contain a puzzle, problem-solving technique, or mathematical proposition.

Dr John Wachira Mwangi, a paediatrician at Gertrude’s Children’s Hospital warns that while play remains a vital part of a child’s development and while safer than ever before, parents should remain vigilant about hidden hazards posed by toys.

“Parents should understand safety marks and labelling to ensure that the right safety checks have been carried out and considerations when giving and receiving used toys,” he warns.

They should first determine the age of the child. Toys are designed for specific age sets. According to a standard compliance requirement for toy manufacturers, toys must always come with an indication of age suitability.

Concerning gender, boys should play with toys for boys such as tractors and girl toys such as dolls for girls.

Ride-on-toys with high backs such as horses are very hard for young children to get on and off safely.

He says: “Make sure they are strong and don’t tip over easily.”

?Toys with small batteries can cause poisoning if swallowed.?