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Language Therapy and play: Part 1

hello sunshine hide and seek thimble game prepositions thinkfun toddler preschoolWe’ve decided to try something different this week; we pride ourselves on helping people find just the toy they need (even when those needs might be very specific) but occasionally we have our knowledge of play bolstered by experts. There are a huge range of ways in which play can improve the lives of children and adults alike and it’s sometimes nice to be able to show this off. This week we’ve been lucky enough to have speech and language therapist Lynsey Paterson (who runs ‘Dialogue’ Independent speech and language therapy services) sit down to answer a few questions about a couple of the toys she uses in her sessions. Thank you Lynsey.

Fun Junction: The other day you kindly sang the praises of two Thinkfun Games that we stock: ‘Hello Sunshine‘, a hide and seek game using a friendly-looking little sunshine plush, and ‘Roll and Play‘ an active, dice-based actions and expressions game. What features of these games in particular do you like?

large_hello_sunshine_thinkfun_think_fun_toddler_gameLynsey: When I am looking for resources to use with children I am considering a lot of different factors. The most important one for me as a speech and language therapist is what areas of language is the toy targeting. “Hello Sunshine” is fantastic for targeting prepositions. Prepositions are words that describe the location of something and will include in, on, under, beside, in front of etc. Prepositions normally develop in child’s speech between the age of 2-3 years as children begin understanding question words like “where?” and when they start putting several words together into short phrases like “The ball is in the box”. (See www.talkingpoint.org.uk for good information about the stages of language development.)

Hello Sunshine” is a versatile game for targeting both the child’s understanding (receptive language) where they have to follow the instructions given by the adult and also their spoken language (expressive language) when they get to tell the adult what to do – which all kids love doing!

The “Roll and Play” game is more general as it covers several different areas of language. For example, name something that is red, do an action like wave goodbye. Games like this can be good as general language enrichment games which would be perfect for any parent, childminder or nursery to use to promote a language rich environment.

large_roll_and___play_thinkfun_think_fun_game_toddlersAfter the language demands, the durability and look of the toys have to be right. The Thinkfun Games are brightly coloured with all cards with a laminated finish which helps make sure the resources stand up to little hands! They also have handy little pockets built into the toys so the cards don’t go missing. Both these resources are like soft toys which I know can be an issue for cleaning – but they are machine washable.

Finally, I do believe that toys have to be fun for everyone who is playing with them – and that includes the adults! Everytime I use both these products, we have fun – especially when using “hello sunshine” develops into a hide’n’seek game!!

Fun Junction: We advertise these games as being suitable for children aged eighteen months and up, do you find that this limits the age range who can enjoy the use of such games or do (clients/patients) not mind using games aimed at such young children?

Lynsey: I must admit I tend not to pay too much attention to the ages on toys as I tend to find all children develop at different stages. I tend to focus more on what the language demands of the activity are and how do they match the child I am working with. Also there are so many ways you can increase the difficulty of the games which means you can extend the use of an activity. For example if you were working on the child’s ability to understand prepositions with “Hello Sunshine” then you could add 2 commands together instead of just one. This makes the task much harder! Finally, the “Hello Sunshine” has some blank cards where the child can create their own instructions which is great for generalising the children’s language too.

Sometimes I will also use resources for a completely different use than they are attended for. For example the “Roll and Play” dice has different colours on each face. The colours relate to different approaches in Speech and Language Therapy like colourful semantics (which colour codes different parts of speech to help children understand how language is structured). I have also used Velcro to attach different symbols to the dice for a game (e.g. different clues to help someone guess the meaning of a word). It is always a bonus when you can get multiple uses out of one game!

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Lynsey Paterson is an experienced speech and language therapist (SLT) who runs Dialogue – Independent speech and language therapy services. As well as being a SLT, Lynsey is also a Family Support Co-ordinator for Perth Autism Support and a mum to two primary aged children. Please go to http://www.dialogue-slt.co.uk for more information about Lynsey and the services she offers or follow her on Facebook or over on Twitter.

We’d like to thank Lynsey for taking the time to talk to us about these brilliant wee toys. We’ll be inviting Lynsey to contribute her expertise to our blog again in the future so if you have any questions about toys and language development please don’t hesitate to pop them down in the comments section below. Thanks for stopping by and we hope this information has been useful for you. All the best, the Fun Junction Team

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Deciphering the labels

not for under 3 three toy labelling label age appropriatenessSo what’s the difference between ‘not for under 3’ and ‘suitable for children aged x and up’? We work in toys so for us this is clear and simple, but we get that it isn’t always easy to see the difference. Children will often pick up toys in the shop only for their parents/carers to spot the ‘not suitable for children under 3’ tag and tell them that the toy is ‘for babies’ (I’m guessing they mean three year olds or I’ll have to admit to being even more confused).

I occasionally try to jump in to the toy’s defence and explain that the label is only there for health and safety reasons, to which I can occasionally be faced with a stony stare followed by the parent/carer encouraging their child to find something ‘for older boys/girls’.

Before you assume that I’m just trying to sell them a more expensive toy I should add that the vast majority of the time the toy the child picks first is cheaper than the ‘older toys’ their parents are trying to usher them towards. I think the main issue is that parents are scared of their child getting stuck on ‘baby toys’. I get it, I have two boys myself and it’s not nice to think of them being teased by their friends because it’s not ‘cool’ to like Thomas the Tank Engine’ any more, or because they haven’t moved on to a franchise that’s aimed at kids older than themselves like Harry Potter or Star Wars.

Honestly, I understand why someone might be reluctant to buy what might look like a ‘baby toy’ but at the same time just because the box says ‘3+’ this doesn’t mean that it’s a toy aimed at preschoolers; it simply means that it’s been safety tested to standards that allow children aged three years and over to play with it. The themes of the toy could well be aimed at much older children than that.

This is where the main difference lies, the circle with the crossed out baby that says ‘not for 0-3’ simply means it’s safe for children over three. Toys sometimes have a second label that might say something like ‘Ages 8+’; this is a sign that the manufacturer thinks that this toy is appropriate for children over eight. Sometimes (in fact quite often) this second advisory label simply isn’t there but that just means that the decision about appropriateness has been left up to the buyer, it doesn’t necessarily mean that only preschoolers will like the toy, it simply means that the toy has passed safety testing and conforms to certain regulations that mark it as safe for use by children over the age of three.

In many ways this is linked to the ‘CE’ mark that has to be printed on any toy sold within the European Economic Area (CE stands for Conformité Européenne, meaning ‘European Conformity’). In a sense it’s like being told that your car can reach a top speed of 100mph without your engine running into problems; you could safely reach that speed but that doesn’t mean you should. It’s up to the driver to gauge whether that speed might be appropriate. The little label above simply refers to safety, it has nothing at all to do with recommending an appropriate age at which a child might enjoy it.

Do you get frustrated with health and safety testing and labelling? Do you think we should just use our common sense when selecting a toy for our children? Is there anything that toy companies might be able to do to make this difference in labelling clearer?

I don’t know if this post has been helpful or simply patronising, it seems like a confusing issue and that’s why I decided to talk about today but I apologise if I’ve just spent the past few paragraphs telling you something you already know. If however you still have some questions or comments about this sort of labelling please feel free to comment below, or you can comment over on our Facebook or Twitter accounts. Thanks for popping by (and feel free to check out my own toy blog here), cheers, John

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Engineering Engineers

engino eco car demoWe’ve had these kits in for a while now and we’ve been really impressed with the quality and the price. You might have spotted the Eiffel Towers that we’ve had in both out Crieff and Perth windows, they were both Engino and you can even try and build your own (if you’re up for the challenge) for less than £100 (that’s the in store price, unfortunately it’s so big and heavy we’ve had to add £10 to the online price to cover postage).

Engino is a brand new construction system which is set to roll out in classrooms across the country soon (so children will be familiar with it soon enough). The system works from basic engineering principles and encourages children to explore the use of three-dimensional exploded diagram instructions (like real engineers often use). Basically it’s been designed by an engineer who wants to help prepare the next generation of engineers (and children interested in other STEM fields) for the kind of construction techniques and principles they’ll encounter in the real world.

engino pico spinner red construction pocket money plastic engineering spinning topEngino offers a huge range of different types of sets, starting with small £1.50 pocket money kits. These are collectables and if they get all four (red, green, blue, and yellow) they can build three different vehicle models from the parts (instructions are available on the Engino website).

eco wooden 3 in 1 one a box cars and tractors engino plastic engineering construction systemEngino also created a range that incorporates wooden components. It’s a great way to add a more natural feel to their construction toys with the added benifit that wooden components come from a much more sustainable source than plastic (hence the ‘eco’ name). You can find the two kits we stock by clicking this link (for cars, and a tractor) and this one (for bikes).

inventor 90 ninety in 1 one a box engino plastic engineering construction systemProbably most ‘engineery’/’engineerish’ (OK neither of those are real words but you know what we mean) are the motorised sets, the largest of which provides instructions for as many as 90 different projects. There is simply no way you’re going to get bored playing with Engino. Each kit comes with a motor which runs on AAA batteries (though, as seems to be the norm with these kinds of things, they aren’t included in the pack).

These are construction kits that are genuinely a bit different and when compared like-for-like with other construction sets they’re alarmingly cheap, starting at £1.50 for the spinners, the motorised 30 in 1 set is just £24.99, and the Eiffel Tower, the most expensive, and biggest, set we stock (seriously it’s 1.5 meters tall when built) is just £99.99 in store.

We’re very impressed with these sets and we hope you enjoy having a wee browse around on our website to check them out yourself. Let us know what you think either in the comments here, over on our facebook page, or over on our twitter account. Thanks for stopping by, hopefully see you again soon, cheers, the Fun Junction Team

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Instantly Arty with Djeco Stencils

10383794_704143089689885_2234159907151625749_oSometimes we get a crafty toy in that produces such a professional result that it doesn’t feel like a ‘toy’ any more. These are Djeco’s stencils, we got them in as a pocket money line, just a nice we activity for children to do on a rainy day. However, when we opened up a couple of packs and tried them for ourselves we realised just how polished our work looked.

Each pack contains two sheets, each with a reusable adhesive coating on one side. The stencil sheets themselves are approximately 108mm (4 1/2″) wide and 85mm (3 5/16″) tall. They are slightly fragile but the plastic they are made from is certainly far more robust and versatile than paper or cardboard would be. Even so, we don’t recommend them for children under 6 years old.

Honestly, they feel like you could use them for home decorating, customising/’up-cycling’ old furniture, or you could even combine them with snazaroo face-paints to create an amazing temporary tattoo. There’s just so much you could do with these little cards.

There are a few different kinds so we’ll try and make sure you can see them all in this post. They’re all themed and they also make economical use of the space on the card. Here’s what we stock:

djeco pocket money plastic reusable adhesive stencils birds 2 djeco pocket money plastic reusable adhesive stencils dragons and oriental imagery2 djeco pocket money plastic reusable adhesive stencils flowers and hearts djeco pocket money plastic reusable adhesive stencils flowers and plants2 djeco pocket money plastic reusable adhesive stencils lions and tigers and bears oh my djeco pocket money plastic reusable adhesive stencils owl wolf

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New Parent? Here are 5 Toys that you didn’t know you needed

peek squeak soft giraffe mirror tummy rattle toy baby infant 2When you’re a new parent you get a ridiculous amount of advice (not all of it particularly useful). To be honest you can probably let a lot of it fly right by you, but when it comes to toys there are a few essentials that just work. We’re speaking not just from experience as parents here, we’ve seen countless other parents come in and pick up these essentials for second babies and beyond. We’ll try and keep it brief and hopefully avoid sounding like know-it-alls (this list is in no particular order, click on any image to find that product on our website):

whoozit mirror manhattan toys baby safe soft frame 2peek squeak soft giraffe mirror tummy rattle toy baby infant 2Mirrors: Even before the milestone where they recognise their own reflection, mirrors can be great for babies. It’s exciting for them to see movements in another object that are tied to the movements they themselves are making.

This sounds very simple so if you’re looking for a complicated description of developmental credibility then baby can get a real-time interactive experience, incorporating a manipulable visual manhattan wimmer ferguson fergesson double feature large baby safe mirror 2large_galt_toys_smiley_sun_mirror_dr_mirriam_stoppardexperience that encourages spatial awareness, hand-eye coordination, and perceptual capacities. All of this and not a ‘smart-screen’ or even a battery in sight. Just be sure to get a baby-safe mirror if they’re likely to be making close contact with it (i.e. grabbing and chewing).

Linkets: OK this one is possibly more for mum or dad’s benefit but it’s worth listing here all the same. linkets plastic rings for baby infants attach toys buggy pram HALILITYou literally cannot have enough rings to hang things from; either you want to stop something being flung from the pram/buggy, or you just want to make it easy for baby to find their toy, it’s unbelievably helpful to have a big stack of these on hand (they even allow you to connect bags to your pram/buggy, though remember they aren’t designed for this and might not bear much weight). To top all of this they are also textured and make great fidget toys and teethers for baby even when not linked to a bigger toy. This one is a definite ‘must have’ item and sadly can get overlooked during the first few months. John in our Crieff shop uses this as his go-to present for any new parents he needs to buy for.

wnikel rattle toy manhattan from birth sqzoo winkles lion manhattan toys newborn SQ3Rattles: OK you probably do know that you need this one, but it’s worth thinking about what kind of rattle a baby really needs. Basically you want something easy to hold, bright, and fairly stimulating, it’s especially good if you can get one that doubles as either a comforter or a teether.

Spindly bits can make a rattle seem too fiddly but they make it a lot easier for baby to hold on to, plus they have the added advantage of offering something to chew at when teething begins. Soft toy rattles can be great but often they can be bulky for baby to hold, however there are options that offer an easy grip whilst providing a comforting softness and a friendly face.

large_tiddler_board_book_by_julia_donaldson_and_axel_schefflerBooks: This can seem very odd to some new parents. Your baby is lying there staring around them, not really aware of what their own hands are, and we’re suggesting you sit and read them a story? Forget the story for a second (well don’t forget it entirely) and just think about what this activity feels like for your child; someone is animated, sharing images and sounds, and taking time to fix their attention solely on baby. For a few minutes you get a chance to bond over an experience that isn’t about food or cleaning nappies.

large_Traction_man_is_hereFrom day one you can read to your child, of course they don’t know what your saying but you get two great perks all in one; on one side you get a chance to enjoy spending time with your child without distractions and stress, and baby gets a chance to hear your voice and know that you care about them. On top of this there’s a very real developmental perk; you’re letting your baby hear a huge collection of words and if you read the same story a lot, then those words will become more familiar and months down the line these can help prompt baby to repeat what they’ve heard (so be careful what you read to them).

Cars: This last one on the list is such a common toy that it’s sometimes ignored, but there are a few benefits to look at. First of all cars move, this simple fact, coupled with the fact that they’re a lot easier to manipulate than say a push or pull-along toy, means that cars can provide a real incentive for baby to get moving and explore their environment. One other very important issue to stress here is that a lot of little girls don’t get toy cars, or at the very least they have to wait a few years to see one. This seems ridiculous, women drive too, and baby girls can benefit just as much as boys can from the active play associated with a toy car.

There are loads of other kinds of toy that can benefit babies but if all you had was a collection of what’s listed here you would still have a very happy baby (and you wouldn’t need to buy a single battery). Hope you’ve found this helpful, all the best, the Fun Junction Team

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The Art of Toy making

Arty Toys Ze Castle CompEvery now and then a toy company surprises us. The best surprises come when a company makes something simple, that works as a kind of pretend-play ‘key’ that opens up the imagination and allows it to pop into a higher gear. Arty toys did this for us, their figures are amazing, they’re far from realistic but there’s something really alive about them. We got really caught up in making up wee character descriptions of each individual figure on our web site which we thought we’d share. Here are some of our favourite home-grown product descriptions:

djeco arty toys knight darko black knightDarko looks like one of the most menacing fiends you could ever meet, but the truth is his visor is a sneeze guard (he’s always got a cold) and he’s so lazy (and a bit of a scaredy cat) that he sometimes takes off his armour and leaves it stood up at his post to pretend he’s on guard duty while he goes to hide in a cupboard for a nap. Darko’s favourite possession is his pillow and his favourite activity is sleeping. Darko is not the best night guard in the world. For Ages: 4 years and up

large_rosalia_djeco_arty_toys_princessIn the land of Djeco few people possess the ability to do magic, even fewer master it. Rosalia is a master, she can fairy-god-mother with the best of them but she’s also been known to turn the odd annoying prince into a frog (if he looks like he deserves it). She’s not a bad princess, just a bit… quick-tempered and she normally helps them back to normal after a little while…normally. Suitable for children aged 4 years and up

large_Arty_Toys_Darius_and_the_Attack_Tower_with_border2Out of the blue Darius will sometimes tell the other knights of Ze Castle that he “smells purple” or “tastes thunder”, the other knights know that Darius is a bit…confused. So what duty did they allocate to this slightly unhinged but very friendly little guy? They put him in charge of a war machine of course! Another fantastically unusual creation from Arty toys. Suitable for Ages: 4 years and up

large_captain_red_pirate_figure_toy_djeco_arty_toys_preschool_poseable_pose-able_posableCaptain Red is a lovely chap, really!…Well OK sometimes he goes a bit crazy and throws people off the ship, but people love swimming right? Captain Red is an Arty toys pirate, distinctively designed by the folks at Djeco. We originally got these figures in to appeal to children that were a little too young for the likes of Papo figures but to be honest we were wrong, children of all ages love these little characters, with pose-able arms and heads and very distinct designs and personalities, what’s not to like? These figures are all suitable for children aged 4 years and up.

Arty Toys are just one example of the kind of creativity that the folks at Djeco have to offer. If you click on this link you’ll be taken to the ‘Djeco‘ section on our web site. On top of their amazing play figures they also offer a superb range of craft sets and games, it really is worth a look, we hope you enjoy Djeco’s range as much as we do. Thanks for popping by, have fun, The Fun Junction Team

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Does it HAVE to be wood?

large_DKL_make_and_create_construction_Wonderworld_Trix_Track_two_2_Way_Flipper_wooden_marble_run_block_kit_set__W_Occasionally a customer comes into the shop and wants to see nothing but wooden toys. It happened again a few days ago and sparked up a wee behind the scenes debate between the staff: Is there really something inherently wrong with plastic toys? Well yes and no; the funny thing is that wooden and plastic toys are simply different from one another; neither is better as such. However, it can still help to understand the pros and cons of each type of toy. For starters lets be positive and go for the pro lists:

What’s good about wood? There’s something timeless about a wooden toy. If it’s designed with care we can picture it being handed down through generations. Not only is wood a sturdy material from which to construct a toy, it’s also wonderfully resilient, even after rough treatment (a bit of wood glue can leave the toy looking none the worse for wear). The tactile quality of wood can’t be underestimated either and it’s hard to imagine simple building blocks made out of anything else (though we recently got some stone blocks in store, very different tactile experience and fun to build with). What’s more, left untreated, wood can be a material that will satisfy even the most adamantly safety-conscious parent. Wood is natural, traditional, timeless, and repairable. Here are a selection of our favourite wooden toys (click on the images to be taken to the product page on our website):

djeco filabellule nature themed lacing toy fine motor skills developmentlarge_DKL_make_and_create_construction_Wonderworld_Trix_Track_Throw_and_Roll_wooden_marble_run_block_kit_set__W_large_Arty_Toys_Ze_Castle_Complarge_MBL_B_Little_Forest_Train_Set

Can plastic be perfect? Of course it can! You can dunk it in water, leave it outside (OK colours can fade a little in the sun), and depending on the type of plastic used it’ll bounce back from heavy treatment. Overall, plastic is a superb material from which to construct a toy. What plastic might lack in timelessness it makes up for in a dynamism in form and function; plastic is lightweight and the average plastic toy can easily house any motor or electronics you might like without getting unrealistically heavy (or making components overheat). Plastic can provide a degree of detail that few other mass-production materials can, a child’s favourite character can be produced in miniature and still look instantly recognisable. Plastic is bold, bright, dynamic, versatile, and can be bursting with personality. Some of our boldest and most beautiful plastic toys can be found by clicking the images below.

large_MBL_Pooh_Ganglarge_DJ06705_djeco_king_draklarge_JCR_B_Okideoke_Gerrylarge_battat_plastic_toy_fishing_rods_magnetic_fishing_with_working_reel

The fall of wood: Wood is expensive to produce, it’s heavy, and it can be difficult to manipulate with precision on a factory scale. However, the most problematic issue is wood’s relative inability to deal with water in all of it’s forms; it has a tough time dealing with atmospheric conditions that plastic can take in it’s stride.  There are few wooden toys that could survive as a bath toy without swelling up into a distorted mess, plus dampness is also an issue for outside play meaning that something made from wood will typically solely work as an indoor toy. On top of this the colours that plastic boasts can only be achieved in a wooden counterpart with the aid of paint or other wood treatments, some of these treatments are superb and could weather the very chompiest of babies and toddlers, but you do have to be careful of what you buy, check for CE marks to ensure that what you’re buying will be OK for your child. The final issue with wood is obviously deforestation. However, unlike plastic which is drawn from a finite resource like oil, new trees can be planted. We take care to make sure we stock a range of minimally impactful wooden toys. Here is a selection:

hape toys go fish go fine motor toy manetic wand with metal balls perspec covert700_632b3e1b4ce9d80a4432c7ea5b5535c4goki cement mixerIMAG1644_BURST001_1

There’s plastic and then there’s plastic: Just like wood, plastic has it’s downsides. Sure you can use it to create bright, durable, toys for all weather, but when play gets a little too much for a plastic toy it’s got nothing on wood when it comes to recovery. Even if you’re a dab-hand with a tube of super-glue you can only work with what you’ve got. Plastic toys, when broken, are rarely an easy thing to fix.

Also worth thinking about is that on an aesthetic level some parents have a fixed aversion to plastic, with its garish colours and more flimsy feel (at least when compared to wooden equivalents). In themselves, these features have basically no bearing on how the child themselves will react to the toy (in fact most younger children respond best to bright, high-contrast colours) but if you’re buying a gift it’s always worth considering the tastes of the parent as well. Despite some truly beautiful plastic toys, there will always be some people who simply want nothing to do with it.

You can’t have a winner when it isn’t a competition: There simply isn’t a competition here. From the outside it may look like the same toy could be made in both materials but in practice you’ll find marked differences in the way toy manufacturers utilise the strengths of the respective materials. Wood is solid, dependable, natural, and traditional. Manufacturers using wood don’t typically try to make it look like a plastic toy, instead they play to these strengths, hoping that wooden toy owners take the necessary care to ensure that their toys stay away from water and other things that might damage their toy.

The same goes for plastics manufacturers; they acknowledge the limitations of their chosen material and then do as much as they can with the most dynamic, lightweight, and versatile manufacturing material available to the toy trade. There is no winner between the two, the simple fact is some toys will always work best made from plastic and others will work best when made from wood.

A quick ‘also ran’: It seems a shame not to mention die-cast metal. There are countless superb toys made from die-cast. In many ways it’s a material that bridges the gap between plastic and wood. It’s versatile, strong, it can be weatherproofed, it’s traditional and sturdy, not to mention the fact that the detail that can be achieved can be equal to (if not better than) what you could see on a plastic toy. However, it has it’s own downsides too, most notably its weight, take a die-cast tractor to the head and you’ll maybe be inclined to consider plastic alternatives. However, as above it isn’t a competition, die-cast is simply better-suited to some kinds of toy than wood and plastic, and vice versa.

wpid-imag1643_burst005.jpgOh and here’s a picture of the stone building blocks were talking about, very unusual to use but amazingly tactile blocks, and they balance brilliantly.

Hope this has been helpful, all the best, the Fun Junction Team

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Toys for an anxious child

Piglet winnie the pooh by bullyland toysChildhood can be an anxious time, filled with unfamiliar scenarios. Many children suffer some degree of anxiety during childhood, even from events or situations that may seem fairly benign to an adult. Examples include difficulties interacting with other children, concerns about performance in school (especially where the child believes themselves to be ‘bad’ at something), anxiety can even occur where a child’s social group is going through changes (e.g. X fell out with Y, and now your child can’t play with both at the same time).

There are a host of other issues not listed above that can contribute to a child feeling anxious, parents and teachers become well-tuned to things that upset the children in their care and can do a lot to encourage a child through their feelings of anxiety. In this process one of the key issues can often be finding some means of increasing the child’s self esteem.

We aren’t claiming that simply having the toys below will cure anxiety but they have been known to work well as props and aids for parents and other carers as they attempt to harbour feelings of self-worth and increased self-esteem within the child in their care.

This list comes in no particular order, every child is different so use your own judgement in figuring out what might work best for them:

sogen fressers worry eaters soft toySorgenfressers: These little guys (and girls) eat your worries, just write down what’s bothering you and take the Sorgenfresser to bed with you and by the next morning they’ll have eaten it all up.

We’ve had more than a few grown-up customers suggest that they wouldn’t mind one themselves to eat a wee pile of bills. However, there is a fantastic resource to be found in having access to a prop like this. The primary reasoning behind Sorgenfressers is to encourage children to open up about their worries in order to feed them to the Sorgenfresser. (You can get a similar effect using puppets, discussing the merits of puppets could probably do with its own post, but in the mean time you can see a selection of our puppets by clicking this link)

Parents and carers can either choose to make this a mutual activity or they can be the one responsible for clearing out the Sorgenfresser during the night. Either way you gain access to invaluable information about what’s troubling your child that can hopefully help you both figure out a way to deal with it.

confidence builder self esteem help with anxietyConfidence building games: Another way to help an anxious child is to encourage feelings of self-worth and confidence. Whilst performance-based confidence building games like ‘Charades for Kids‘, ‘What’s Up?’ (pictured), and ‘Whatever Next!‘ might not be for everyone, the chance that your child can see you acting like a fool (and understand that you aren’t bothered by it) could be a great step in allowing them to feel comfortable with placing themselves in a similar situation. These sorts of games are a fantastic way for children to experiment with a more expressive part of themselves, increasing self-awareness in a positive manner. At the same time a child will be enjoying the safety of participating in these kinds of activities in the comfort of their own home.

large_rory_s_story_cubes_story_telling_game_with_dice_for_6_six_years_and_upThings to relax: It can’t all be about facing problems head on, sometimes what can really help is some diversion and a change of pace. Simple activities like puzzles and non-competitive games can be an extremely soothing activity for anyone after a stressful day (this even goes for adults). It can be extremely rewarding to take a little time in the evening for non-screen-based solitary activities like jigsaw and logic-based puzzles.

There’s also something to be said for the more relaxed and less pressure-filled atmosphere that can be enjoyed with non-competitive games. One of our favourite non-competitive games is ‘Rory’s Story Cubes‘ (pictured); a simple dice-based game where you roll nine dice, which have a huge variety of pictures printed on the sides, and try to tell a story using all nine pictures. Not only is this a welcome change from traditional competitive gaming but the story-telling element provides the added benefit of family bonding and shared creativity.

This list is far from exhaustive and we aren’t claiming that these products will work for all children that suffer from occasional bouts of anxiety, every child is different and you’ll need to find what works for them. Please also note that more extreme anxiety or ‘social anxiety disorder’ can be a more serious condition and may require additional support. If you suspect that you may need more help, or if you are just concerned about the nature or ferocity of your child’s anxiety, the NHS has a great resource that will help you diagnose what’s happening and hopefully point you in the direction of any help you may need, here’s the link.

That said, we really have heard good things from customers about each of the products listed. If we’re asked for toys or games to help an anxious child these really are our ‘go to’ toys. We hope that this list has been useful and please feel free post a comment below if you’d like to ask any questions or indeed suggest additions to this list. All the best, the Fun Junction team.

You can click on the images below to be brought to each product page on our web store:

large_5830_Charades_for_kidsconfidence builder self esteem help with anxietylarge_galt_whatever_next_acting_board_game_charades_confidence_building_family_game_for_5_five_years_and_upsogen fressers worry eaters soft toylarge_rory_s_story_cubes_story_telling_game_with_dice_for_6_six_years_and_uppuppet company stand at fun junction

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Help with handwriting

wpid-imag0240.jpgThis is something we get asked for fairly often and customers tend to be quite surprised at the array of options we point them towards. There are a heap of toys and games that can help with fine motor skills and in essence that’s the main thing that children need to master to become comfortable using a pencil. Here are three ideas that go beyond simply getting them to practice with a pencil and paper:

hape toys go fish go fine motor toy manetic wand with metal balls perspec coverMagnetic ball maze: A magnetic stylus attached by string to a wooden maze board, covered with a perspex topper that stops the colourful little plastic-covered metal balls from escaping as you guide them through the maze. This one ticks a whole lot of boxes; not only is the magnetic stylus extremely pencil-like but the movements used to guide the balls through the maze are extremely similar to the sort of control children need to master the art of making legible shapes with their pencil. Hape also makes a version that looks like a train.

large_galt_cotton_reels_dexterity_toy_preschoolLacing toys:  Lacing beads are an unusual one for most people and we sometimes get funny looks for suggesting it when asked. Admittedly lacing a bead doesn’t look like writing (even a little bit), however it does promote a careful approach to using exactly the same muscles you use when writing. What’s more it’s a little less obviously linked to handwriting which means it a perfect toy for a child who has perhaps developed a reluctance to try writing or anything writing related. (click on the links for cotton reels, First Lacing Pictures, and Djeco’s very distinctive princess beads, transport beads, and nature beads)

GLT Water Magic Animals (W)Water Magic: It can’t hurt to expose children to pencil (or pencil-like) activities either. Galt’s awesome ‘water magic’ books come with a refillable water ‘pen’ that’s used to colour in the board pages. Once they’re done your child can enjoy to colours and hidden pictures in the images, which will fade back to white after a few minutes, ready for re-use (yes that means a lot less paper being used up, plus it’s fantastically portable). You can have a look at water magic sets by clicking the picture. Another clear winner (possibly for older children) is of course dot to dot puzzles which obviously encourage children to produce nice straight lines.

There are obviously a lot more options (you can see a lot of them in our ‘fine motor‘ section on the website) but these should cover a few bases. You can click on the images below to be taken straight the toys talked about in this post. Hope this has helped you, feel free to leave any questions or comments you might have in the comments box below and we’ll get back to you as soon as we can, all the best the Fun Junction team.

hape toys go fish go fine motor toy manetic wand with metal balls perspec coverhape choo choo tracks wooden maze toy magnetic wand perpex cover fine motor skillslarge_galt_cotton_reels_dexterity_toy_preschoolgalt first lacing pictures animals fine motor control toydjeco filaprincess princess themed lacing beads fine motor skills toydjeco filavroum wooden transport lacing pieces fine motor dexterity toydjeco filabellule nature themed lacing toy fine motor skills developmentlarge_GLT_Water_Magic_Dinosaurs__W_large_GLT_Water_Magic_Fairies__W_large_galt_water_magic_gift_set_water_art_with_pens_for_children_aged_3_three_years_uplarge_GLT_Water_Magic_Robo_Crew__W_galt water magic farm with water penGLT Water Magic Animals (W)

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