I love hearing about new products from my friends at Norman & Jules, and I especially love when they discover something that I can use in my line of work. Some of my favorites have come to me this way, including my current obsession: the Peekaboo Lock Boxes. These have become one of my most used toys as of late, and readily provide opportunities for open-ended play.
Shape sorter toys like these are critical for early childhood development, but most fail to hold a kid’s attention for all that long. They’ll end up using these kinds of toys a few times before growing bored and tossing them aside. These lock boxes, however, are just the opposite! They offer a multifaceted approach to play while presenting myriad opportunities for working on developmental skills, including visual motor skills, hand-eye and bilateral coordination, and general perception skills.
The obvious goal of playing with any shape sorter toy is for young children to identify and name different shapes or colors. Part of what makes the Lock Boxes so great is the multilayered challenge they present. In addition to shape matching, each box has a different style of latch that small hands have to figure out how to manipulate in order to retrieve the shape from inside. Not only does this help with dexterity, but it also tasks kids with a simple problem to solve.
Furthermore, the boxes come set in a wood board with colored cutouts designed to pair with the different colored boxes. This provides yet another avenue for developing color recognition and provides a tactile outlet for doing so. I have found that, among the kids I work with, even those who have the most difficult time maintaining focus and attention are able to play with this toy longer than most of the others I present to them.
A few more reasons I love these Peekaboo Lock Boxes:
THEY IMPROVE MANIPULATION AND GRASPING SKILLS
The various fasteners on each block require children to use the small muscles in their hands—muscles that us grown-ups barely give any thought to. These muscles are so important to develop, as they come into play later on when kids need to do things like manipulate buttons or snaps, or hold a writing instrument correctly.
THEY IMPROVE PROBLEM SOLVING SKILLS
It’s more than just matching the shapes. Kids will need to figure out how to get the shapes into the boxes and then figure out how to open and close each box to find the piece within.
USE THEM TO TEACH CHILDREN ABOUT OBJECT PERMANENCE AND CAUSE AND EFFECT
Object permanence refers to the understanding that something still exists even if you can’t see or touch it. For some, once something is out of sight, it’s difficult to comprehend its continued existence. Shape sorters are great for this, particularly this one, because once you drop the shape through the correct slot, it’ll effectively “disappear” until you figure out how to open the box and retrieve it.
Here are a few ways which I’ve incorporated these into play activities with the kids I work with:
USE AS PART OF AN OBSTACLE COURSE
I’ll admit I’ve got the added benefit of having all kinds of equipment at my gym, but there’s no reason you can’t create your own obstacle course using items in your home! I’ve been setting up one box and a piece on either end of the room, and having the kids complete whatever “obstacle” I place in the middle. These have included doing an animal walk, crawling through a tunnel, jumping onto spots on the carpet and wheelbarrow walking.
USE AS PART OF A TREASURE HUNT
This is especially great for older children, as it adds a further level of engagement and development of problem solving skills. Hide the pieces around a room and present them with a set of verbal clues to direct them to the hidden piece. Have them collect all the pieces and the boxes before figuring out how to fit each piece inside.
USE ALONGSIDE A DRAWING ACTIVITY
After they successfully dropping each piece into the corresponding box, have them practice drawing the shape from memory. As they master that, increase the challenge by having them incorporate that shape into a more complex drawing of something. For example, the circle can become a face or a sun.