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 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.
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.)
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.
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.
Kindergartners have confidence and flair. They're conscious of what they produce and they take a lot of pride in their work. Craft activities for this age tend to fall into two categories: process-oriented and product-oriented. A process-oriented craft has no specific outcome; it's about seeing what your kid can do with the materials. You can buy an assortment of art supplies, like crayons, markers, tempera paints, watercolors, and paper, or look for big jars of collage supplies, like feathers, googly eyes, Popsicle sticks, and stickers. A product-oriented craft begins with an objective and teaches kids to follow instructions and understand how steps work in sequence with one another.
Sometimes, there may be room for interpretation along the way (a kit can include several colors and materials). You can find kits for making jewelry or jewelry boxes, or ones that focus on sewing sock puppets and painting birdhouses and piggy banks. Save the leftovers and use them to create something entirely new. "When children don't know what the end result is supposed to look like, they can engage their creativity and problem-solving skills," says Diane Quiroga, a board certified and registered art therapist and mental health consultant in Livingston, New Jersey.
Your child's imagination has grown by leaps and bounds; she's creating elaborate scenarios, distributing roles, and making rules. Kids love to perform, and drama activities aren't just for children who are outgoing. "Drama is great for any kid," says Ryan Bailey, founder and director of Stage Soup, a drama program for children in Brookline, MA. "Often, the shyest children get the most benefit because performing builds their confidence and brings out another side of them." A puppet theater will provide hours of entertainment for kids (and parents). Act out fairy tales or nursery rhymes or make up stories and assign parts. Give kids the materials to make their own props and costumes. The company Seedling has a kit for kids to design their own superhero capes, and there are kits to decorate fairy wings, make masks, and decorate T-shirts. Face painting kits are perfect for kids with a flair for drama, and abstract props like wooden blocks and silk scarves can push children's creativity.
One of the more challenging social skills that children this age need to learn is winning and losing gracefully. Children are naturally competitive, so they tend to celebrate when they win and pout when they lose. When adults play with children, it's fine to be flexible with the rules and help with strategic thinking and provide feedback. Choose classic board games or those that don't require reading but involve some strategy or skill. There are newer family games, like Qwirkle and Spot-It, that are challenging for all ages. When children play with other children, it's a more level playing field and they need to be prepared for any outcome. Shorter games are better because kids will probably play several rounds, and each one will likely get a chance to win and lose. Balancing games, where children try to stack pieces without letting them fall, can be played together. These games tend to move quickly, and it's a blast when the whole stack comes down. If you have a very competitive child who gets stressed out when he's losing, consider cooperative games by Peaceable Kingdom Press that require players to work together toward a common goal.
Children are now able to engage in some of the same activities their parents enjoy. A gift for your child that will give you an opportunity to spend some quality time together -- for instance, a kid-friendly digital camera or a baking kit from Sassafras for making cookies -- is a win-win. Get a soccer ball or tennis racket, or some canvas and paints, to plays sports or to create art together. There are also kits that will introduce knitting and sewing. It's important to follow your child's lead when you're playing together, even if you're doing something you love. Children spend their whole lives following instructions from adults, so playtime should give them a break and allow them to be in control of something for a change.
It's fun to shop for a 5-year-old. Now that your kindergartner's special interests are more refined, they might start collecting one type of toy, like Bruder trucks, Schleich animals, wooden trains, or Playmobil sets. Encourage their hobbies, as large collections often lead to elaborate and creative play. When choosing gifts based on special interests, push the edge of the envelope a bit and help children to broaden their horizons. Even if the first reaction is lukewarm, it's likely that a child will take a second look. When shopping, think about value in addition to price. Many toys for this age are not made to last. Avoid things that have a million tiny pieces, as those will be gone within the first few hours of play. Remember to invest in toys that are high-quality and that will capture your child's attention over and over again.
Copyright © 2012 Meredith Corporation.