, Newburyport, MA

December 21, 2012

More than just playthings

By Katie Lovett
Features Editor

---- — Parents aiming to help fill under the Christmas tree should look to certain toys that can help children boost their visual skills, says Newburyport optometrist Dr. Robin Blair.

Those skills include eye tracking, eye-hand coordination, visual memory and visual problem solving, he added.

“Toys are a very useful way to stimulate your child’s visual development, starting in infancy,” Blair wrote in a press release. “Holding eyes steady to examine the details of an object is something that is learned and practiced, starting with the first mother-baby eye contact, and is critical for later learning in school.”

Blair offered a list of numerous toys that could aid a child, including stuffed animals for youngest babies or soft, sound-making toys “that can be hung within reach of hands or feet” to encourage hand-eye coordination and general movement.

“Anything that rolls or the baby can throw helps develop focus for different distances and gives practice crawling to get the toy.”

Blair also points to nesting and stacking toys, pounding pegs and balls, crawling tunnels, board books and balls, as good toys for older babies and toddlers.

“Toys that can be sorted into groups like Duplo blocks or big pop beads help develop the sense of what is the same and what is different,” Blair wrote.

By giving a child a jigsaw puzzle — at any age — parents are also helping to develop numerous crucial skills, Blair said. As toddlers work on puzzles with simple shapes and pictures of animals and people, they begin to learn what fits into a space. Older children are challenged when faced with solving a tangram puzzle, or jigsaw puzzles.

A child who completes a puzzle can be encouraged to finish it again at a faster rate, or without the aid of the photo on the box, thus relying upon visual memory skills, Blair said. Model kits, coloring books and dot-to-dot activity books are available for many age levels and help improve focus, hand-eye coordination and visual perceptual skills, Blair added.

Also included on Blair’s list of recommended toys and games are: Tinker Toys, building blocks, Play-Doh, paint by number kits, hula hoops, balance boards, finger paints, chalkboards, Velcro dart games, Lite Brite sets, Lincoln Logs, bean bag toss, horseshoes, checkers, card games, arts and crafts kits, Legos, Tiddlywinks, model cars/ airplanes, Twister, Connect Four, xylophones, Dominoes, and bowling sets.