As physical toys compete for market share against digital offerings within the larger landscape of play, toy manufacturers have one clear cut advantage: Fiddle Factor!
Toys that encourage children’s fine motor skills are said to have good “fiddle factor.” Not only is this type of manipulative play good for kids, it is irresistible to them! Being able to touch, hold, and manipulate objects is inherently satisfying. Try prying a toy out of a 3-year old’s grip!
Exercising our motor skills (both gross motor and fine motor skills) is crucial to how we wire our brains. In fact, some scientists contend that the very reason we developed brains in the first place was to be able to move!
For infants, deliver age-appropriate fiddle factor through allowing opportunities for grabbing and holding, pushing a button to activate sounds or lights, batting at dangling objects, and more. As infants grow into toddlers, pulling levers, spinning dials, opening doors, manipulating blocks and balls, etc. all use fine motor skills.
Among the core toy-playing segment of 3-6 year olds, manipulative play value abounds. Putting together race tracks, rolling a car along the floor, activating your action figure’s pose-able body all enable great manipulative play. Likewise, brushing your doll’s hair, changing your doll’s clothes, activating play set features also deliver great fiddle factor fun (every Barbie doll comes with a brush for instant manipulative play value, right out of the box).
Among younger and older kids alike, hands-on construction toys like Lego and arts and craft kits like Rainbow Loom and bead kits offer satisfying manipulative play value.
Sometimes kids fiddle with objects that provide the simple sensory pleasure of touch, like cuddling with a soft plush animal or baby doll, spinning Silly Bandz round and round on your wrist, playing with Slinky, or even locking and unlocking a car door over and over again. Another example of the power of touch is what I call “Clutch toys:” those dolls, figures, or vehicles that kids carry around with them, for the simple pleasure of holding onto something physical.
Some simple things to consider as you look to increase manipulative play value:
- Ask yourself, “How will little hands manipulate this toy?” And then make sure you build in the answer(s)!
- Build a little articulation into your figure as a cost effective way to increase play value—even if it is just one joint. This helps bring the fantasy to life, as well.
- Include a removable weapon, prop, or fashion piece with figures/dolls.
- Include as many moving parts as possible in a play set, using hinges, dials, levers, slides, etc.
- Include a prop that the child can hold in role play sets. It helps create the impetus for action.
- Include multiple parts or play pieces that can be added, combined, or rearranged.
Screen time cannot deliver manipulative play value so make sure you are fully leveraging this opportunity in all your toys.