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How to Find the Right Toys for Self Isolation

It’s a weird time in our lives right now. Schools are closed and learning has moved online. People are social distancing. Businesses are either shutting down or limiting hours. And you, as caregivers, are working to keep the people in your care occupied and happy.

We at The Red Balloon want to help you make the best choices possible as you navigate this turbulent time. We’ve put together a list of four things to think about when choosing activities for your family.

1-Play Value: By play value, we mean, “How long is this toy/game/puzzle going to keep my child occupied?” If you buy a $5.00 toy, is it going to give your child five minutes of playtime or 5 hours of playtime? If it’s only going to occupy them for five minutes of playtime, that’s not very good play value. But if that $5.00 toy gets you 5 hours of uninterrupted playtime, that’s phenomenal play value! One great example of this might be the Melissa and Doug costumes. Children come back to costumes over and over as they pretend to live in other worlds. 

2-Replay Value: “Is this a toy that they’ll play with once and never look at again?” Or is this an activity that your teenager will come back to over and over again?  Card and board games are great here. When you find some that everyone likes, they get played over and over. One game that gets used in my house over and over are the Thinkfun brain teaser games

3-Educational Value: Is this toy/game/puzzle going to teach my children something? There are many toys and games out there that are specifically designed to educate your children, like the Melissa and Doug wooden puzzles. There are numbers, shapes, colors, the alphabet, and the United States of America. There are STEAM toys, pretend clocks, and books, like Hear What’s Here-a fun homophone book-to entertain and teach your children. 

Remember, there are other ways of educating than teaching science facts or how to add*. Another way to help your children expand what they are learning is looking for toys that will teach them how to think. Look for toys that will expand creativity and imagination or logical thinking skills. A great example of imaginative play might be found in Calico Critters, where your child can imagine all sorts of scenarios and worlds. Doing a jigsaw puzzle with your family increases problem-solving capabilities and improves attention span, amongst other things.

3-Who are you buying for? Do you want activities that engage the whole family? Try an escape room game, Mysterium, or other group board or card games.  Do you need activities that children can work on by themselves? Look at single-player brainteaser games, puzzles, or workbooks. Are you worried about screen time? Try 3-in-1 Lego  sets that can be built, smashed, then built into something new. 

4-Let your child(ren) lead: This is a confusing time for everyone. Playtime is essential to help children (and the rest of us) figure out their world. Take some time each day to let them choose the direction of their play. Let them pick whether they want to be the captain of the ship or if that should be you. Let them pick which game they want to play. And then listen to them. Listen to them open up their minds. Enter into their world. So much of their life (even more than normal) is being dictated to them by you, the laws, the schools, and the screens. Give them a chance to be in charge of their world. I think you’ll be surprised at how much they know and how quickly they can process their world.

This challenging time is asking us all to be flexible and work together (six feet apart, of course). We hope that this list of things to think about helps you make the right decisions as you walk this crazy path. Please feel free to call any of our stores if you have any questions or would like some suggestions. 

*One fun way to teach younger children addition is to do candy math. Gather a lot of multicolored, small treats and give them to your child(ren). Have them start by separating them into colors. Then ask them how many three red one plus four blue ones equal. Your child then counts out three red ones and four blue ones, puts them together to count the total, and then eats the treats. I have kept my children doing this kind of math for a half an hour or more because they get to eat the treats. :)