3 Questions to Ask Before You Buy For Children Ages 2-7 (preoperational stage)

3 Questions to Ask Before You Buy For Children Ages 2-7 (preoperational stage)

We're back with the next installment of our “Stages of Play” series, helping you get your toy situation under control. 

But first, a quick review of the framework here. Remember our play-guru, Jean Piaget? For a primer on his philosophy of play, check out the original post in this series. He said, “Play is the work of childhood.” Love that! 

Piaget discovered that there are 4 distinct Stages of Cognitive Development in kids--what we can think of as Stages of Play. 

Today, we’ll focus on the 2nd Stage--The Preoperational Stage (ages 2-7). In this stage, you’ll notice an increase in “functional play”--repetitive actions kids find fun, but that aren’t attached to any expectation of an outcome. Kids at this stage are learning both through real-life experiences, and also through imaginary play. Ideal toys at this stage encourage creativity (like art or building supplies) and pretend play (like dolls, action figures, and dress-up clothes). 


3 Questions to Ask Before You Buy a Preoperational-Stage Toy: 

  • Does it encourage creativity? 
  • Does it act as a catalyst for imaginative play? 
  • Does it help them understand real-life experiences? 

1 Thing to Avoid in Preoperational-Stage Toys: 

  • Just like in the previous category, avoid toys that do the playing for your child. If it has too many bells and whistles and your child can be a passive observer, they’ll lose many of the benefits of play. 

Take this list to the play space in your house and take inventory. Are there toys for your Preoperational Stage child that don’t meet Piaget’s criteria? Are there toys that do the playing for your child? Consider removing them--either by donating them or tucking them away for a rainy day. 

Why? Research shows that children play longer and more deeply when there are fewer toys available. Makes sense, right? The benefit of that deep play is the brain connections happening when a child really engages--like, full-body engages--in play. Magic! 

Next, we tackle the Concrete Operational Stage (7-11). Honestly, parents, it’s the stage when you might start enjoying their toys too. Stay tuned! 

If you’d like to add a few well-chosen items to your playspace, I’ve included a few favorites for this stage below--all products my family loves. 

  1. Small World Toys (think dollhouse, action figure playsets)
  2. Blocks/Building Sets (traditional wooden, cardboard, or magnet blocks are all great options)
  3. Dress Up (this isn't just princess dresses, it can include anything your child can put on that will help them take on a pretend role)
  4. Dolls/Figurines/Stuffed Animals (some kids love Little People, others prefer stuffies, doll babies, or figurines from their favorite show or book)
  5. Picture Books 
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