Thanks to Ruth Villanueve, who pointed to this article, in which Geek Dad describes the 5 best toys ever:  stick, box, string, cardboard tube, and dirt.  First, I love that this is a parent talking about actively playing with his children.  Second, I love that many of these toys can be found outdoors or brought outdoors. After all, research has shown that being outdoors decreases the risk of developing myopia (nearsightedness).  Third I love that these toys are free, especially during the holiday season, when the messages of peace and love can be lost beneath piles of credit card receipts.  And fourth, these descriptions brought back wonderful memories of playing with my children and these classic “toys.”  I must admit that I still love these toys….. But I digress.

More to the point, I love toys that can be used to develop your child’s vision while having tons of fun.  The American Optometric Association recommends toys that will help develop or sharpen your child’s general eye movement skills; eye-hand coordination skills necessary for writing and sports; shape and size discrimination skills needed for reading; and visualization and visual memory skills needed for comprehension and for the ability to visualize abstract things.  I would like to add to that list of skills.  Vision is also about output; the ability to respond in a meaningful way to visual input.  It involves movement and navigation, timing and rhythm, and the ability to make judgements about where things are, not just what things are.  So now lets go back to stick, box, string, tube and dirt.

  • Sticks come in a variety of sizes and can be used to dig big holes and little holes (size discrimination); to extend your reach and poke soap bubbles (judgements about where things are);
  • Boxes can hold and hide other toys and objects (visual memory); they can be combined with other boxes to build boats, trains, robots, time machines and anything you can imagine (eye-hand coordination and visualization).
  • String can be used to drag something from here to there (navigation); throw the string over a stick to make a pulley–pull down on the string to make something move up (visualization); use string to make leashes and take a stuffed animal zoo on parade (movement); heavy-duty string, aka rope, can be a jump rope or a swing (timing and rhythm).
  • One cardboard tube is a telescope, and two cardboard tubes are binoculars–what a great way to begin to explore where things are in space.  Tubes are also great for hitting objects and watching them move in the opposite direction (eye movements and eye-hand coordination).
  • Dirt and its first cousin, sand, can be poured and molded (shape and size discrimination); you can write in the dirt (visualization); piles of dirt become hills to help understand a 3-D world (where things are).

Of course the possibilities are already endless but why not add a few more “toys,” like assorted bottles, water, and blankets.  The opportunities to improve your child’s visual skills through play are limited only by your imagination.  But play isn’t only about vision.  There is evidence that play, especially free imaginative play, is crucial to normal social, emotional, and cognitive development.  Play helps children learn important social skills such as taking turns and negotiating.  Play requires more sophisticated language in order to communicate about something or someplace that exists only in the child’s imagination.  Play fosters creative thinking and problem solving skills that will enhance a child’s ability to manage an unpredictable and complex adult world.

Please, grab some toys and go play with your children! Then sit back and watch as their imaginations and creative juices take sail.  Take sail…. boats… pirates……buried treasure….. awww, please please let me play too!

Read about toys that you can purchase : The 2011 Easy-on-the-Eyes Holiday Gift List

Read more about activities to help develop your child’s visual skills.