Often, a child's first toy might be a teddy bear or another stuffed animal. Stores are full of stuffed toys, and there are even entire businesses dedicated to customizing stuffed animals. While adults may think that such toys are cute and soft, there is more potential lying inside. Kids at all ages enjoy these toys, sometimes even getting attached to the same toy for many years. Stuffed animals offer educational benefits to kids of all age groups, as listed below:
1. Babies: Babies love to touch the surfaces of stuffed toys, feeling their bristly whiskers, soft fur, and hard eyes. They will chew or suck these toys as well, so make sure early choices are designed to be well-loved and washed. Avoid small beads or removable parts. Some babies like squeaky toys. Fur or hair should be short and not easily plucked out.
2. Toddlers: Up until about two or three years, toys should be carefully chosen for durability and safety. Toddlers are learning empathy along with language and names. Different stuffed animals help young children recognize familiar words like cat, dog, bear, and pig – along with the appropriate sound made by each animal. Stuffed toys will receive names and become constant companions. Emotions are tested out on these silent friends – they may be thrown, hugged, hit, and kissed. Early parenting skills are practiced too, so stuffed animals may be fed, have their diapers changed, get put to bed, and sit on the potty. By rehearsing these situations, toddlers work through challenges, understand changing expectations, and demonstrate their observations. Stuffed toys may be a child's first real friends.
3. Preschoolers: By this age, children start to engage in more imaginative play. Stuffed animals are not restricted by their appearance, so a giraffe can be a princess, an astronaut, a teacher, or even a giraffe. These toys can be included in active play. Kids often share their feelings with stuffed toys and may conduct elaborate conversations. After an upsetting day, a child can come to a stuffed friend and reenact the event, helping them deal with difficult emotions. Like real pets, stuffed animals may even help children become calm.
4. School-aged children: From about five years old, games often reflect kids' preoccupation with new structures and people in their lives. Stuffed toys can become a whole class of students, the audience for a puppet show, or a gang of pirates. At the same time, kids may be strongly attached to these toys, still sleeping with them and possibly creating new clothes or constructing items to expand on earlier games.
5. Older children, especially animal lovers, may want to collect unusual stuffed animals. Finding an exotic anteater or platypus becomes a passion. Along with this hobby, kids learn about classifying animals, natural habitats, and geography. Visiting a local zoo or even another country offers a chance to understand sciences like zoology and biogeography. Some children sew stuffed companions for themselves or as gifts for friends or siblings. It's a wonderful way to learn basic sewing skills and pattern-making, involving both fine motor coordination and 3-dimensional math skills.