Christmas Must Haves
By Sarah Welland
As the festive season approaches, you may be looking for some tips or ideas on what toys to buy for your children that are going to be well made, educational and most importantly, fun.
At the Good Play Guide, we are always looking for ways to make the world more playful. We believe the best toys are ones that children will return to again and again over time, providing benefits to their learning and development and the freedom to explore, have fun and get creative.
Read on for a guide to our favourite toys this Christmas, organised by the type of toy that you are looking for – and rest assured that each one has been thoroughly tested by children and reviewed by experts.
These toys and activities provide plentiful educational benefits, focusing particularly on making Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) fun and engaging for your child. They make an ideal gift because they allow children to grow and progress their skills alongside what they are learning in the classroom.
Chunky construction blocks are ideal for younger children who enjoy experimenting and honing their hand-eye coordination through building. Magicube Shapes feature half cubes, quarter circles and half spheres and magnetic wheels to form a variety of working models, introducing children to scientific concepts including magnetism and kinetic energy. Creative construction sets like this also encourage creative problem-solving which is a key part of STEM learning.
The familiar Numberblocks characters make developing and practicing numeracy skills fun and accessible for younger children as they present numbers in a visual, hands-on way. The tactile blocks and accompanying activities allow children to build with numbers, helping to develop their understanding of mathematical concepts such as pattern recognition and number bonds.
£22.50 – £45
This colourful construction set featuring magnetic spheres, rods and geometric shape panels, encourages children to experiment with key concepts in STEM such as magnetism, geometry and forces. It is also made of recycled materials and is fully compatible with other products in the Geomag range, meaning it can extend the play opportunities when combined with other sets. The beauty of versatile construction sets like Geomag is the freedom they give children to use creative problem-solving and logical thinking skills to build their model.
£47.99 – £52.50
With the Coding Critters, children can develop their coding ability from an early age through fun, imaginative play. Blazer the Dragon and Skye the Unicorn are robot critters who can light up, move and make fun sounds as a result of children creating patterns and logical sequences for them to follow. This 22-piece interactive play set encourages them to use directional vocabulary and introduces them to the fundamentals of programming code which are key skills in STEM.
SOCIAL AND COLLABORATIVE PLAY
These are our picks of games which encourage children to play together – taking turns, engaging in healthy competition or working together towards a joint goal. They make ideal presents as they help children to develop important social, emotional and communication skills.
Combining a matching and memory game with a fun puzzle, the Christmas Eve box makes an ideal family gift for encouraging children to play socially and bond over the festive period. The game is simple enough for younger players to understand and while it encourages turn taking, it can be played collaboratively instead of competitively – meaning it is particularly useful for when you have a range of ages playing together.
The Pillowfight Warriors range features historically inspired, soft play swords, axes and shields which make a great addition to rough and tumble play, an important part of letting off steam and developing resilience. The historical themes also allow children to learn and engage with the historic periods of the Romans, Vikings and Medieval ages. As children role play (as gladiators, knights or Vikings) and play-fight safely, the attached score card teaches about the boundaries of where they should and shouldn’t hit. These are also great fun for using both indoors or outside.
SMALL WORLD AND IMAGINATIVE PLAY
These are toys and play sets that make the most of small world play, allowing children to engage their creativity and storytelling skills by acting out scenarios with familiar characters. Playing house also lets children role-play their daily activities and develop communication skills by acting out and exploring issues they may be struggling with. They make an ideal gift as they provide lots of play value, and can become whatever your child imagines them to be.
The Oddbods House Playset features familiar characters which provide a springboard for children’s imaginative play and storytelling. The expressive theme of the Oddbods also encourages children to identify and describe different emotions, helping them to develop their emotional vocabulary and empathy. The play set features figurines, furniture and stickers and everything can be tidied away inside and carried with the handle on top.
The AquaPlay Lockbox from Smoby combines small-world play with discovery and learning as children can fill the set with water with the removable water pump and experiment with floating and sinking as they move the boats through the locks and canal system in the play set. Providing children with hands-on opportunities to explore these scientific concepts through their make-believe play expands their world and helps to build their understanding.
Larger imaginative play sets like the Smoby Chef Corner Kids Restaurant make a great addition to children’s make-believe play, allowing them to role play scenarios they have seen in everyday life. This provides a safe space to make sense of the world around them and practice a range of important life and nurturing skills too. This particular kitchen set also has restaurant features including espresso machine, calculator, credit card reader, menu and table for customers which encourages children to develop language and social skills.
ACTIVE OUTDOOR PLAY
The following toys and activities are great for encouraging children to get active and explore outdoors. This type of play is so important as it is fantastic for their health, mentally, physically and emotionally. They make an ideal gift as with a little imagination, they provide endless opportunities for play.
This outdoor playhouse is set on a 70cm high platform, featuring a ladder and slide, allowing children to reign over the garden! By providing a fun and safe play space outdoors, children can really immerse themselves in a make-believe world as well as reaping the benefits of fresh air and active play. It also helps to develop their social skills, as they negotiate roles and communicate with their peers in play.
The fun and colourful KS slide from Smoby will make a great addition to children’s garden play, allowing them to burn off steam and develop important balance and coordination. It features grippy handles and anti-skid steps to ensure little ones stay safe and even includes a hose attachment for a fun water cascade in the warm weather.
Buying the perfect toy for your child this Christmas can be daunting, and the sheer amount of toys available can be overwhelming at times.
Get started by using your child’s age, ability and interests to guide you, then consider which type of toy you are looking for. Next, refer to our list of ideas and you are sure to find something fun, creative and educational that they will return to over and over again!
However, we think finding an activity that can allow you to play together can be just as beneficial. The simple joy of play is a fantastic common ground for different generations to connect over, allowing you both to reap the social rewards.