There’s a major life change that happens around the time a kid turns 6: They learn how to read. And as this happens, their world expands and almost totally reshapes itself. They’re now recognizing and interacting with what was previously hidden, and starting to question the world all over again. It’s also a time when science and how things work becomes particularly interesting. So we got back in touch with Dr. Roberta Golinkoff, co-author of Becoming Brilliant: What Science Tells Us About Raising Successful Children (and who helped us find the best toys for 1-year-olds, 2-year-olds, 3-year-olds, 4-year-olds, and 5-year-olds) to learn more about which toys best suit the needs of this major life moment.
Update, November 30, 2017: For the 2017 holiday season, we’ve updated this post with a couple of newer toys we think are just perfect for 6-year-olds. We’ve used our own Strat judgement alongside Dr. Golinkoff’s definitions of what makes the most educational and fun playthings for tots. The newest toys are up top.
Three wooden spaceships for your creative, young NASA scientist to build and paint into existence.
“These suction cups fit together and you can build whatever you want. I think that sounds great, as long as little hands can hold them. Anything that is open-ended — meaning that the child gets to create something, and then take it apart, and create something new, and then take it apart, and create something new again — is a good bet. That’s something that’s 90 percent toy and 10 percent kid — our golden standard. The same goes for blocks, Legos, and K’nex.”
“You learn to read in first grade, when you’re 6. And even if kids can’t read just yet, they know what reading is and they’re trying. That’s another level of functioning. Once you start to read, you can take in the world in new ways that you couldn’t understand before. While you read and discuss story books, ask them questions where they have to make inferences, like: Why do you think he did that? Or: How does that make the character feel? You’ll also want to keep reading to them at a higher level than they’re at, so that they can continue picking up new things and just learn to love reading and books in general.”
“This Stomp Rocket sounds like fun and also makes your kids physically active. It’s a toy that’s best for outside, which is always good. Parents don’t have to spend a lot of money. Like we discussed for 5-year-olds, you can go on the web and find those old hand-clapping games, hopscotch, and chalk, and kids love it. Get a jump rope. Classics that are easy to use and inherently social.”
“Not everything needs to be a learning toy. This is fun, as long as parents tell kids that they’ll be going around picking up all the pieces of the broken balloons. With this, kids can play amongst themselves and don’t necessarily need a parent to fill up the balloons for them.”
“Kids start collecting things around this time and a little before. My personal bias would be to collect things from nature, like seashells and rocks. You can show them off in nice boxes.”
“Kids can also collect stuffed animals and other little collectible dolls. With those, they can play school, have them go on a trip — use their imagination. While this kind of thing may seem kind of ordinary to us, there are benefits to a child’s imagination. Also, with these, parents don’t want to be a director. They should follow the child’s lead. That’s how they learn about roles in the world and what people do.”
“These remote-controlled robots are very much in fashion. They’re really really fun for kids, because they don’t have control of these types of vehicles or robots in everyday life. They can also use it as part of their imagination and develop scenarios of cops and robbers and different chases. The stronger a child’s imagination, the more creative they’ll be in life and school, and that’s a wonderful thing.”
“This sounds fun, challenging, and physically active. It’s actually similar to a game the colonials created, where you have a ball on a string attached to a cup, and you try to catch it in a cup. It’s funny how these things just keep getting reinvented.”
“All kinds of arts and crafts, paper, paints, colored pencils, and clay. Kids love to create, and we should be building on that. There are these kits where you make bracelets, and boys like them too. Kids love this.”
“How about baking a cake or cookies with your kids? That’s a wonderful thing. You get to talk and you also get to measure, which is math, and you get science by asking questions like: How does the cake go up? Why does a cake rise? What is happening? Open yourself to including your child in everyday activities.”
“Now’s a great time to get them interested in science, when they’re becoming observant and curious about how the world works. But you don’t want to force kids, like, “You have to do this science project.” If it’s fun and the parent wants to do it, great, but it’s got to be fun. That’s how they’ll get the most from it. It’s about asking kids and getting them interested. It’s about playful learning and having fun.”
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