When one examines how the typical toddler passes his or her day, they discover that there are in fact very few productive hours. Between the 12 to 15 hours of sleep and the hour or so spent eating, children have precious little time to focus on their most important task, learning. That's why it's so important to make sure that children are able to spend as much of their time learning as possible. Of course, toddlers do most of their learning through play, so it is during this time that parents and caregivers must make an effort to maximize the learning opportunities. The most effective method of doing this is by providing children with educational toys and games. Although all toys have some degree of educational value, they simply do not compare to what a high-quality learning toy has to offer. In fact, some educational toys are so useful, they can help children learn skills that are typically learned at much later stages of development. Some bath toys for instance, can help toddlers learn how to count and sort colors and shapes many months before they are generally expected to learn these skills.
The question is then, how does one differentiate between an ordinary toy and a high quality educational toy?
The first thing to consider is what tasks are performed as a child plays with a given toy. If these tasks are ones that a child is not expected to have mastered, you're off to a good start. To illustrate, a remote control car that is intended for children between the ages of 4-6 may allow for the development of various skills such as manual dexterity and visual tracking. The problem however, is that these are skills that should be worked on earlier on in a child's life.
On the other hand, if a four year old child is presented with a toy that teaches the alphabet, he has an appropriate educational toy and stands to learn a lot from that toy, assuming he or his siblings don't break it first.
Although there are many toys out there that claim to be educational, some have a lot more to offer your children than others. One way to distinguish between the good and the ordinary, is by considering how many different skills a child can learn from a given toy, and whether the activity involved in that toy is one that may very quickly bore the child. Remember, no matter how a educational a toy may be, if it's boring or very breakable, the child is not likely to learn very much.
When purchasing a learning toy it is also important to consider if it is manufactured by a reputable brand such as Anatex, Kidkraft or Guidecraft and if it is being sold by a real specialty educational toy store. Such companies tend to provide you with the best learning toys for your money.
One thing that is always important to keep in mind when shopping for a toy is the reason you are making that purchase. Although finding the best toy for that little child in your life may require a little more time and thought than your typical purchase, the reward is immeasurable.