We love spoiling our grandchildren, whether that means reading with them or playing with them. If you have been a grandparent for a while, you probably already have a few favorites, but if you are new at this whole wonderful grandparenting thing, you may go into the stores and be overwhelmed by the options. I’ve bought some bloopers, such as a cool-looking firetruck with lights and sounds, that, once opened, revealed a sharp edge that wasn’t safe for little hands to be playing with. Then there was the expensive recycling truck with the moving basket on the front that turned out to be a flimsy piece of junk, for it broke the first time that it was used.
Here are a few of my other, more successful and well-tested toy choices that you might like to pick up for your grandkids.
Blocks, Blocks, and More Blocks…
Wooden blocks, soft foam blocks, cardboard blocks, and texture blocks…the choices seem endless and all of them are fun for children to use. If your grandchildren like to see how high they can build, the soft blocks and cardboard blocks are great because when they fall, no one gets hurt!
Wooden blocks come in a variety of shapes and sizes, so when you and your grandchildren are building, it is a great opportunity to talk about the various shapes, compare sizes, and discover that two squares are the same size as the rectangle, or two triangles take up the same space as the square. They are learning while playing!
Your little grandchildren will love when their block tower falls down, and will want it to be built again and again to watch it fall. Yet older grandchildren will not want their “structure” to fall down, so your role might be to help them problem solve how to keep their building from toppling.
Block play allows them to plan, problem-solve, regulate their behavior, and complete a task, all aspects of “executive function”, the processes that we all need to function successfully.
Another favorite in my preschool classrooms are Magna Tiles– magnetic shapes that can be used to build structures or to attach them to other tiles and watch as they “grab on” to other close-in-proximity tiles. The tiles can be used to teach shape and color recognition, talking with your grandkids about the tiles’ colors and shapes and the attributes of each. For example, you might explain to your grandchild that we would use squares to build a house but that when we want to make a roof, we would probably use triangles. Watch your grandchildren pore over the Magna Tile choices in search of squares for building houses and triangles for making roofs.
This was always a favorite in my classrooms, and all three of my grandchildren, of very different ages, want to play with Play-Doh every time that I spend time with them. Granted, you need to monitor it with young children (my 20-month old granddaughter wanted to eat it, and I can understand why, as the colors are so inviting), yet it is a relaxing, calm activity that gives you the chance to engage in conversation with your grandchildren while also modeling new vocabulary for them as you use the Play-Doh to “mold”, “stretch”, “swivel”, “elongate”, and “compress”. You are also engaging them in discovery activities as they mix the Play-Doh and find out that the red and blue Play-Doh that they squeezed together in their hands is no longer either of those colors, but an entirely new color!
Using Play-Doh also allows them to engage in pretend play that mimics their real life. My grandchildren went through a phase where they were going with their daddy to Costco on Saturday and always trying the many samples that were available throughout the store. When we played with Play-Doh, recalling their shopping experiences with Daddy, they made “samples,” and I was the customer who walked through the store and tried their various Play-Doh “treats.” Encouraging their story-making, I’d ask about how the treats had been made and inquired about the ingredients they had used. Gramma’s always got a few cans of Play-Doh in her bag when I go to visit!
When my sons were growing up, the only thing they wanted were Lego kits, and now their sons want them too!
Start with Duplo (bigger blocks) for your youngest grandchildren. They will enjoy stacking them together and taking them apart, and as their play develops, they will begin stacking them together with a “blueprint” in mind, such as to build a house for their dolls, or a garage for their trucks.
As they get older and move on to Legos, there is an unbelievable selection of Lego kits to choose from, so you just need to know your grandchild’s interest. Here is the cool thing about Lego. You and your grandchild start out looking at the step-by-step directions, and it really is a team effort between the two of you as you search for the pieces that are pictured in the directions and fit them together to make the vehicle or building that is pictured. You work hard to complete the project, and then before you know it, your grandchild has taken it apart and is making something completely new (which is awesome and the great thing about Lego); and again, before you know it, your grandchild is saying to you “No Grandma, I don’t need any help from you. I can build it all by myself. I just want you to watch me”, or “Grandma, my brain is telling me that I want to build a snow fortress, so can you find all of the white pieces for me while I build?” Lego play encourages such imagination!
Traditional toys like these have withstood the test of time because of their simplicity, safety, and educational and skill-building value. Next time you plan a trip to visit your grandkids, why not take a few of these along with you, and watch their faces light up when Grandma or Grandpa sits down to play with them.
About the Author: Patti Kameen has spent 35 years as a teacher in the public school system as well as in various private preschools. The past 15 years she has worked with infants, toddlers and preschool age children in Head Start. She recently retired so that she could spend more time reading with her three grandchildren.