When it comes to celebrating birthdays, most 5-year-olds want to be involved in every part of the process, from picking the balloons to choosing the cake flavor. And they usually have a few opinions about gifts. By age 5, children start to focus on special interests with a little more intensity, but they still enjoy a range of activities, play with many different types of toys, and become more aware of their surroundings. Most spend some time watching TV, so they like toys that feature characters from favorite shows, or they covet things seen on commercials or at a friend's house. As the owner of a children's toy store in the Boston area called Magic Beans, I spend a lot of time researching toys and development. Read on to learn about the types of toys I would recommend to enhance your child's skill set for this age.
Learning and Wondering
Learning comes naturally to kindergartners; they love to ask questions and are fascinated by anything unusual. Basic science kits can help children think of biology and chemistry as something exciting. Kids this age are making great strides with reading and math, and Kumon's first-rate workbooks are designed to help children practice these skills. You can get blank storybooks for children to fill in with their own writing and pictures, and the toys from Learning Resources add appeal to sitting and learning. An electronic globe is a fantastic gift that allows children to learn geography and to get a better sense of the world. One of the best-sellers at Magic Beans is a clock that teaches children to tell time and learn when it's too early to wake up parents in the morning! Computer programs, video games, and apps have so much to offer as well.
Moving and Coordinating
At this age, children have plenty of energy and they need physical activity to regulate their bodies. Your child's body awareness, coordination, and strength have progressed to the point where she can skip, jump, hop on one foot, and turn cartwheels on the playground. This is a fine time to invest in some toys to keep kids moving. Basic sports equipment is always a good bet -- a croquet set, a foam football, a baseball with a small glove and bat, or a kid-size field hockey set. Hula hoops and jump ropes are popular throwback toys; you can find beautiful, handmade hoops on Etsy.com that are high in quality and easy to use. Most 5-year-olds are ready to ice-skate, swim, and ride a bike, so gift certificates for lessons with a local professional may inspire a lifetime hobby. A scooter can even allow kids to ride school alongside a walking adult. (Remember that helmets are necessary for any wheeled activity.)
Planning and Building
Remember when stacking two blocks was a huge accomplishment for your child? These days, 5-year-olds have a lot of vision when it comes to building toys. They plan ahead and follow instructions more effectively than ever before, and it shows in the magnitude of their constructions. Building something is just one step in a bigger make-believe scenario. A child might use blocks to build a zoo and then fill it with animals and play with it for hours. Open-ended construction toys offer possibilities and demand more creativity than model-based sets. Wooden blocks are still compelling, and some sets include interesting architectural elements. Marble run sets, like Quadrilla or Q-Ba-Maze, are terrific for this age because they incorporate problem solving. Magnetic construction toys, like Magna Tiles and Tegu blocks, are another option, and there are hundreds of Playmobil and LEGO sets for children this age.
Reading and Puzzling
As a child's attention span increases, he's able to sit and be occupied with activities for longer periods. Reading with your child is the ultimate downtime activity for this age, as he is close to learning to read on his own. Books can help children feel prepared for impending changes in their routine, so if you're planning a trip or adding a sibling, or if it's time to start kindergarten, choose appropriate books. Shop for a mix of classic children's chapter books, illustrated picture books, and I Can Read books with simple words and large print. Use your finger to point to each word as you read; this helps your child start to watch and listen for the patterns that make up phonics.
Patience and aptitude for puzzles is growing as well, so consider jigsaw and floor puzzles that match your child's interests. If your child likes dinosaurs or ballerinas, buy puzzles with prehistoric or dance themes. Get acquainted with single-player logic games, which offer challenges that build on difficulty. ThinkFun, Smart Games, and Mindware make several logic games for this age. Dollhouses are lovely for make-believe, especially now that your child is old enough to handle the small parts carefully.