Before writing this piece, I was given one rule: “Start out the article by saying that spending time with your child is the biggest gift that a parent can give.” That’s from 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, and 4-year-olds). Just a few days before we got back on the phone for 5-year-olds, Dr. Golinkoff’s partner’s son, Benj Pasek, won a Tony Award for the Best Original Score he wrote for Dear Evan Hansen. He’s halfway to an EGOT now (he has an Oscar for writing “City of Stars” for La La Land) and has become living proof that Dr. Golinkoff and her partner, Dr. Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, know exactly what they’re doing when it comes to raising creative and successful children. Since she doesn’t quite understand the appeal of fidget spinners (“What the hell is the draw?” she asks me before we begin), Dr. Golinkoff recommends an array of classics for 5-year-olds.
“Hama Beads are fun and very creative, that’s for sure. By this age, they’re not going to eat the small pieces, so you don’t have to worry about that. My grandkids have a lot of fun with these.”
“Walkie-talkies encourage communication, collaboration, and creativity. Kids can go into their own imaginary worlds, but they have to tell each other stuff that the other one understands. It could be really fun. More fun than a cell phone, although kids love apps.”
“What about the old-fashioned favorites? Chutes and Ladders and Connect Four are great for pre-readers. Board games in general are great for any age group. Think about what happens: You’ve gotta talk; you’ve gotta count; you’ve gotta be nice. There isn’t much in the way for creativity because you’re following the rules, but as they get older, you realize you can make up your own rules.”
“Let’s not forget the physical stuff. Jump rope, that’s really fun. You can do that with a few kids.”
“Did you ever play games with a bouncing ball? There are all kinds of things you can do with a small pink bouncing ball and hand-clapping. I played those for a long time when I was a kid. As a parent, you can teach your kids these games (if you don’t know any, look them up on YouTube), and then they’ll go and teach the other kids, which is really great and so much fun.”
“They’ll love the big fat pastels and colored chalk that you use on the sidewalk.”
“Anything that spurs the imagination is great. A miniature anything, like this doll house, will make kids want to do role-play, which is very powerful for building creativity and imagination. It can be done alone or with other friends and family members. ”
“To go with that, make sure you get figurines that represent people of different ages — like grandma, grandpa, kids — so that kids can role-play family stuff. Any kind of imaginative role-play is good for creativity and content. If they play with other kids, they’ll argue and make cases, often about the kinds of things that boys and girls can do. One will say, “You can’t be a doctor, only boys can be doctors,” and meanwhile the kid’s mother is a doctor. This is how they learn. It’s going over the rules and roles of childhood.”
“There are the big kind of blocks that you see in kindergarten classrooms, but this is about the age when kids can start using Lego kits. Their fine motor skills are just about ready to build more specialized stuff.”
“Puzzles. The older the kid gets, the more pieces and the more abstract the picture gets. Kids love them. Stuff like this can be used as a reward for working together or doing homework by themselves.”
“It’s so much fun for kids to make little movies. Five might be a little young for making movies, they might need to learn how to read first, but a regular kids’ camera can work. It’s so fun, and you can work with the kid to teach it to them.”
“How about a bike and a helmet? You can start with a bike with no pedals to learn balance, or just take the pedals off an existing bike, and then put pedals back on to learn how to ride.”
“Books are fabulous. Picture books for this age.”
“Kids just love that remote-controlled stuff, and they don’t have to be able to read to use it.”
“I don’t know that 5-year-olds can solve a Rubik’s Cube, but I think it’s kind of fun to play around and try this. Apparently, on the web there are guides for how to do it, and that’s maybe a nice opportunity for parents to work with kids to build collaboration and communication.”
“I think train sets are wonderful. Any type of props, so they can do the make-believe thing. And you know there are those mats that go on the floor that lay out the neighborhood? Kids love that, starting even earlier than 5 — but they love that.”
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