Several of my early life experiences were made easier because I have an older brother who helped pave the way for me and told me what to expect through many of life's "firsts". On my first day of Kindergarten he walked me to school, when I was older he talked to me about driving, voting for the first time, and later on he provided guidance by helping me run my first business. In short, he gave me a sense of confidence, at a sibling's level, by guiding me through some of life's uncharted waters. Having someone my age that understood my perspective and provided advice was invaluable.
While I was reflecting on some of those moments, I thought about toys and games and how they could potentially aid in preparing children for many of life's early interactions and experiences. Offering specific situational guidance could help increase self-confidence and empower children who are introverted, don't have older siblings, same gender siblings, or any siblings.
Toys and games are significantly more "real" than when I was a child but are there yet additional layers of education and reality that could be added to serve as training wheels for children and better prepare them for the future? Additional elements that could be added to toys and games to help coach them, build their social skills, increase their awareness and strengthen their confidence.
Numerous retail toys already encourage themed role and fantasy play such as construction, shopping, cooking, cleaning, camping, driving, insects, baby care, gardening, nurturing pets, and exploration to name a few. By thinking beyond typical role play experiences, could a first-day-of-school doll, game, or activity potentially help young children navigate through awkward "firsts" of the school year by providing them with guidance on how to make friends, things to talk about with other kids, and the types of classes to expect? By including even more realism, a life-sized toy pet could help train children for a "first" live pet by including hunger, potty, and walk alarms set to go off at specific intervals with instructions on how to care for their pet's needs. Dance-themed games prepping girls for school or social dances could include music, dance steps, dress and hairstyles, flowers, things to talk about, photo tips, and other dance-related fine points.
Danny First Toys, a Chicago-based educational toy manufacturer, creates pretend play toys that help build a child's interpersonal intelligence. They offer some fun situational plush toys like farms, fruit and vegetable markets, and camping scenarios. Although a plush outhouse may be a bit too much realism, at least it gives kids an idea of what an outhouse is. Another scary "first" for sure!
Kids are growing up faster than ever and they need guidance and support from a variety of sources to successfully adapt to this rapidly changing world. Toys and games are created to be fun and educational, but the added benefit of helping children acclimate to early life experiences may provide parents, care givers, and teachers with another resource for this developmental opportunity. The toy industry may be able to play an important role by providing some of the tools needed to help prepare and ease children through some of life's transitional unknowns and "firsts".