Monday, December 18, 2006

Ages 6 and Up?

I spent my weekend doing some Christmas shopping. There are a few children on my list. Some of them are extremely gifted. This raises the question that I'm sure many parents on this blog have encountered. What on earth do the age guidelines on toys mean when it comes to developmentally advanced kids?

The Consumer Product Safety Commission regulates these little "Ages 9 through 12" messages found on toy boxes. If you want to read their reasoning on the different categories, you can find the PDF file here. The CPSC chooses the guidelines based on many different criteria. Some, such as motor control and choking hazards, apply to most kids. Others, such as complexity, role-playing, strategizing and other things, can lead to the same problems if you follow the guidelines as you get by putting a highly gifted 8-year-old in a regular 3rd grade classroom. Once, I was considering a toy labeled for 3-5 year olds that said it would help a kid learn her letters in a fun way. The 4-year-old in question, though, was already reading whole books and writing stories. If I'd chosen the alphabet game, she probably would have just made a castle out of the box (not that she wouldn't anyway... 5-7 year olds can really get into creative role-playing, and so do gifted 4-year-olds).

I'm curious how people get around this. How do you choose toys for bright toddlers that don't have small parts, but still involve a reasonable level of complexity? How do you choose toys for gifted preschoolers that don't involve high levels of motor control, but also won't bore the kid? Are there any particular toys you'd recommend for shoppers facing these dilemmas? We still have a few shopping days left...


Quiltsrwarm said...

Oooo, shopping for gifteds can be tough, Laura -- good luck!

For the gifted reader, a gift card to a bookstore (I love Barnes and Noble, myself!), no matter the age, is very appropriate. They can then choose their own books... :) I ALWAYS, and I can't stress this enough, **ALWAYS** avoid noisy toys, you know, the ones that have buttons the kids push to make the toy beep, screech, sing, whatever. NONE of my kids liked these toys because all three of my kids are sound sensitive. Their grandparents insisted on getting these things and I always had to remove the batteries. Not only are these toys annoying for the kids and adults, but they discourage creative play. My son always complained about the noisy fire truck he got because he felt like he was not allowed to do the noises himself...

I usually ignore the age guidelines on toys because they were put in place mostly to allow companies to avoid litigation, partly to give a measure of safety. And, as you stated, Laura, they are not accurate for gifted kids.

In my case, with three gifteds of my own and knowing others, I take into account the child's maturity and intellect when choosing gifts for them. In the case of toddlers, I ask myself "Will this particular two year old actually put that piece in her mouth?" when considering a toy with small parts. My girls were done mouthing things by the time they were two, but my son used a binky until he was three and when it went, in went everything else! So, the three-year old guideline didn't work for me in any case!

If I don't know the child well, I will stay away from small parts and fall back on the book idea above. If you know the child is into crafts, a blob of clay will do fine, too (a taste of it will deter any kid who is still inclined to oral stimuli). There are lots of stores that have imaginative play items, too... I guess I generally use the maturity/intellect gage and go from there. If you are looking for a website, is a great resource (and shopping site) for ideas for gifteds... Good luck! :)

debbie said...

I agree with how the age guidelines just don't work for gifted kids. I, too, take into consideration the child's behaviors. My 28 month old no longer mouths things, so I don't worry much about the choking hazards, as she is mentally ready for the "3+" age range toys. But I wouldn't put a magic marker in her hand for all the money in the world!! She thinks the whole world is prettier colored in marker!

I find that the less restrictive a toy is the more my kids like it. Meaning that too many buttons and limited play options aren't usually a big hit. And I've told people to buy the 5 year old games and such marked 6 or 7 and older. He can even handle some marked 10+, depending on the strategy required.

I think the hardest part is not what *I* buy for my kids, but what others buy. It has been somewhat awkward explaining to others, as you then get into the whole gifted explanation. Which opens that other can of worms! And not everyone "gets it" so I'm sure that some of the gifts from loving family will not be appropriate. Hopefully there will be gift receipts so he can exchange the super hero action figures for science stuff or math games!

Mary Vanderkam said...

Don't exchange those super hero action figures too quickly! I have seen my son and now his son create elaborate sports tournaments and MVP competitions using action figures and even stuffed animals. This play demands plenty of math and recording and writing.

Anonymous said...

We pretty much ignored the age guidelines unless there was a real safety hazard. DS stopped putting things in his mouth in his 1st year, so Legos were great from 2 on. But, for more "responsible" parents, we found that "Brain Box" (or sometimes called "Snap Circuits") were great and also a computer (USB) microscope with nice big controls and durable from (I think) Digital Blue were great. As for games, DS loved Stratego even at 3. It's pretty simple and lots of fun even for the grown-ups. Another thing that is always a hit are "transformers."

Anonymous said...

My son played computer games independently since he was two. He started with Kindergarten level and quickly advanced to 2nd grade level. By time he was five, he was exclusively using games for children ages 8-12. One day at the store, he saw the computer game “The Way Things Work”. This title interested him and he asked if we could get it. The package stated that it was for ages 12 and up. I told him that even though he played games for children up to age 12, 12 and up was pre-teen to teenager range and that it would probably be too hard. He quickly replied that when his age was added to his sister’s age, it equaled 12 years. He further asserted that if they worked together, it would be just right.

I had to get it for him because I was impressed with the logic of his argument. They used that game for years.

Now that they are 12 and 10, I find that I’m not so eager to find gifts intended for older kids. Luckily, they still love “Lego’s” and “Play Mobile”. They have dozens of sets and still play with them on a regular basis. They only play with them alone or with each-other though –apparently other friends don’t know how to play with them properly.

Anonymous said...

Look for open-ended play: Duplo, No-Endz, ... were big hits here.

Are there other kids around? If so some games would work that are not so good for only children.

Anonymous said...

Once the you don't have to worry about choke hazards (the age 3+ warning), you're scott-free. Games for older children may require fine motor skills younger children can't do. So far my kids (all boys) have enjoyed:

Building toys: classic wooden blocks, Legos, Knex, Zome tools (about age 9), math cubes, marble runs. More recently we like Hexabits.

Board games: Connect Four, Sequence, RISK (a favorite from age 6 up), chess, monopoly (all different themes), Scrabble, Pente (my husband also loves this game), Apples to Apples (even my 5 yr old plays the non-junior version), Brain Quest (my 5 yr old has been playing since he was 3 using the 1st grade level questions), Cranium-series games.

Action figures: transformers, superheroes, collectable sets of knights, Native Americans, Samurai, Mythological characters, etc. I love these, and they are used for hours of imaginative play.

Puzzles are always great.

Computer games: Tycoon, Age of Empires, Civilization, Backyard sports series

Gameboy and Playstation: I don't particularly like these devices, but they are great for road trips or if Mom needs a rest.

Books are always great. As kids get older they have more interest in clothes, gear (IPOD, digital camera, PSP, etc.).

This year I'm also giving DVDs about global issues (Inconvenient Truth, Whatever happened to the Electric Car?). My kids have also liked magazine subscriptions from early ages: National Geographic, Smithsonian, the Technology publication from MIT (I forget what it's called), Sports Illustrated, Forbes, Highlights.

I have one son who has loved arts & crafts from a very young age. Besides many art boxes with supplies, he's received a sewing kit (and maybe this year a sewing machine), glue gun and balsa wood supplies, Spin art, ALEX kits to make different things, cooking sets with easy recipes, scrapbooking supplies, etc. These kinds of kits or even raw supplies are terrific for whole afternoons of experimentation and creation.

One son loves sweets and he received glass sundae cups with all kinds of toppings. He loved it.

Anonymous said...

I find it particularly hard to find BOOKS appropriate for my 5 year old, who is in first grade and reading at about a 5th grade reading level. I'm talking about books she can read to herself; she likes to read in bed at night until she falls asleep.

Picture books and early readers are way too easy. Chapter books with content geared toward her age--Junie B. Jones, Magic Tree House, etc.--are also too easy; she enjoys them but reads through several of them in less than an hour, and then complains that she has nothing else to read. While she can read the words in chapter books geared for older kids, she dislikes the smaller print (makes her eyes tired) and the lack of pictures. Also, the content of harder chapter books, like Harry Potter, is not appropriate for her age (too scary).

Finding reading material for her continues to be a constant challenge.

Anonymous said...

Dear "I find it particularly hard to find BOOKS appropriate for my 5 year old"

I reccomend DK's slender volume encyclopedia - nonfiction in general may be the way to go.

In the land of Fiction, try Mrs. Pigglewiggle, the OZ series, any classic, fairytales, phantom tollbooth, The Library and Chinaberry Catalog for more ideas.

Bruce Coville's Magic Shop books, such as Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher may be of interest and yet not too intense.

Good luck,

Evan Adams said...

I second the Bruce Coville thing, although a number of them might still be a bit too intense for a 5 year old.