How can you choose playthings that are truly learning toys?

Educational toys photo from Rokenbok - children with ROK Blocks Photo of advanced Rokenbok building toys for older children

How do you know a good educational toy when you see one?  Phonics toys, flash cards, math games, educational videos and software. . . so many toys are packaged as educational, but what should you know to help you choose what’s most appropriate for your child?  One way experts teach us to think about educational toys is: do they promote convergent and/or divergent thinking?

Convergent Thinking

This is the ability to learn facts, follow instructions, and come to a correct answer.  This type of thinking is fundamental to a child’s education, especially because these days so many educational opportunities are tied to performing well on standardized and multiple-choice tests.  Educational toys that promote convergent thinking lead children to deduce a single correct solution.  A jigsaw puzzle only goes together one way; each math flash card has a single correct answer; the right color for a pink pig will always be pink in a preschooler’s educational video.

Divergent Thinking

This is the thought process that explores many possible solutions, creates new ideas, and solves conceptual problems.  Divergent thinkers are often designers, engineers, managers and leaders of all types, and generally are good at thinking outside of the box.  Many educators argue that all children need a strong foundation in divergent thinking as well as convergent thinking.  Educational toys that promote this kind of learning are craft and arts kits, educational toys that teach scientific and music concepts, and even role playing and costumes that encourage children to imagine and socialize in creative ways.  

Construction Toys Are Among The Best Educational Toys Because They Promote Convergent And Divergent Thinking

Good educational construction toys promote convergent thinking while simultaneously setting the stage for creative, divergent play.  Children follow instructions to build the building or model on the box.  While they are following the instructions, they are gaining skill with the construction pieces.  Completing the instructions (convergent thinking) gives them a sense of achievement and reinforces confidence.  Often, this experience leads them to want to build their own ideas (divergent thinking) with the same building pieces they just finished using!

You’ve probably experienced that sense of pride and joy children feel when accomplishing a challenging convergent task, like completing a puzzle or finishing a LEGO model.  Good educational construction toys harness that emotional energy and move kids right into divergent play.   Of course, you have to be careful how you choose a ‘building toy’.  So much of what’s available today are just ordinary educational toys masquerading as a construction toy.  If the product you are looking at can not be easily reconfigured by a child to build their own ideas, it may help them with their convergent thinking, but it’s probably not a very good construction toy for teaching divergent skills.    

The Best Construction Toys Offer Children 
A Low Floor And A High Ceiling

Seymour Papert, a renowned MIT professor and a seminal figure in the field of technology and education, set out on a mission years ago to determine a child’s optimum creative environment.  He ultimately concluded that an educational toy presents the ideal creative environment when it offers what he calls a “low floor” and a “high ceiling.”   An educational toy that possesses a low floor allows a child to play without needing a lot of advance experience or knowledge. Building blocks provide a wonderful example.  Even toddlers with pudgy fingers can stack blocks and knock them down. An ideal educational toy also possess a “high ceiling.” As a child ages, the toy grows with them and provides tougher challenges, and that’s just what a good construction toy does best!

“A Low Floor and A High Ceiling” is a guiding principal in the design of all Rokenbok educational construction toys.  A three-year-old can stack ROK Blocks into simple structures and models, while his older sister might be constructing her own custom ROK Blocks airplanes and houses. And down the road, they’ll both be contributing there building skills and creativity to complete Rokenbok interactive cityscapes.

Selecting the right educational toys for your child’s toy chest is important and, as parents, it’s a big responsibility for us too. We’ll leave crafts, books, musical instruments, role-playing, and the many other forms of beneficial play to other experts.  At Rokenbok, we’ve made it our mission to understand construction play.  Good construction toys are easy to play with, capture the imagination, and offer increasing challenge over time.  Easy entry with increasing challenge are present in our preschool block system, in every Rokenbok robotic machine and construction element, and especially when the whole system is used together to make large scale interactive constructions. Rokenbok means playtime well spent. . .  educational toys that are among the very best for your child.

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