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Although you may sometimes look at your children's toys and see a jumble of missing pieces, mixed-up parts and current fads, there is actually a lot of thinking and learning that can take place with popular toys.
Here are some ideas to encourage your children to get more out of their toys.

Trading cards - These are all the rage. But did you know that your child is learning negotiating skills, math and compromise when he/she plays with these cards? You can encourage these skills by asking: Why is this card so valuable? Why is one card better than the next? How many cards will you need to complete your collection?

Dolls - Next time your child is playing with a doll, instead of just dressing her up, ask your child, "Where is she going?" "Does she have a job?" "How does she feel?" Your child can learn nurturing and compassion from fixing her doll's boo-boos and talking about how her doll feels. Some dolls also come with complete histories and stories. These are great to promote an interest in history and the past.

Store/Cash Register - By playing store and using a pretend cash register, you can teach your child about budgeting, pricing and shopping. It is also a great tool for math and adding/subtracting by giving change for each "purchase."

Puzzles - These are great to encourage hand-eye coordination and patience. You can watch if your child gets easily frustrated at first and then see how their confidence increases as they master a new puzzle. Even 4 piece puzzles are a great way to encourage these beginning skills with toddlers.

Simple toys - It will be fun for your children to hear about the toys you used to play with. Tell them about hula-hoops and erector sets, which can encourage discussions about how life was when their parents were growing up!

Arts and Crafts - Crayons and paints can really open up the way to seeing what your child is thinking/feeling. Ask them to draw their family, school or house. What does the picture tell you about what they're thinking? Help them make their own books, they color the pictures and you write the words. This is a great way to promote early language skills and reading and writing.

Baking sets- Miniature ovens and cooking sets will encourage a love of creating and also teach measuring and science. How does the cake rise? Why do you add eggs to the mixture? Talk with your children as you are baking and encourage them to ask questions.

Any toy can have some educational benefit. Sometimes you may have to ask yourself, "How can this toy be educational to my child?" The answer may be obvious, or you may have to dig a little to find a lesson or value with the toy. But, the rewards are worth it as you watch your children play with their toys in a meaningful way, and actually learn something in the process.