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Stuffed Friends Can Be the Best Friends

I knew a middle school teacher who kept a teddy bear in the chair next to her desk. As children came to talk with her, she’d ask them to sit, reminding them not to sit on her stuffed friend. She noticed that students rarely sat it on the floor, instead opting to hold onto the squishy, soft creature. Petting it, hugging it, or fiddling with its ears as they talked, relaxing and smiling as they carefully placed it back in its seat as they headed back to theirs. Even the biggest, toughest kids would give in to the power of the stuffed friend. These kids were far too old to play with toys, right? But, they still found comfort in this toy designed for the youngest kids.


Making first friends

In the earliest years, babies are transfixed by faces and by the soft feel of stuffed animals. As they start to grip and gum things, a stuffed friend can transform into a lovey they don’t like to be without. When choosing a stuffed animal for this age, it’s best to look for options with firmly sewn-on facial features, as well as animals that are super soft to the touch and very lightweight. For a perfect baby gift, pair a sweet, soft friend with a companion book featuring that same variety of animal.

Toddler tea time

As children move into toddlerhood, they start to play in new and interesting ways. Pretend play starts to emerge, and stuffed animals become stand-ins for people. These toys begin to take on personality and become more than just a cuddly object. Those puppies and kitties and hippos start to become friends and constant companions. They are guests at the very finest tea parties or patients of the most brilliant three-year-old doctors. They are gathered together as a class of preschoolers or as a whole circus of animals doing tricks. At this age, they are silent players in plays where the toddler is in charge of all the action.

Reading buddies

Beginning readers are notoriously shy. They frequently feel nervous about working through new words in front of their parents or their teacher. If their audience is a stuffed friend, though, they might be more comfortable reading to them. By giving them a safe place to practice and a non-judgemental teddy bear to listen to them, it encourages them to keep working through things without embarrassment. As they master reading, this same technique can work to help them practice speeches, presentations, or musical instruments.

Tweens, teens, and beyond

Older kids can still have a soft spot for a soft friend. Someone to tell secrets to, something to hold when the angst gets to be too much, something that reminds them that they aren’t a full-on adult quite yet. At this age, quirky and fun are the name of the game. Look for funky colors, unusual shapes, and cool creatures. Llamas, narwhals, and sloths are a few of the current animals of choice, but kids at this age will often have a favorite they collect. Bonus points if they light up, smell great, or are extra squishy. Plus, they make really great something extra to act as a gift card holder for when you don’t want to just give the gift card.

 

No matter what age, stuffed animals can be a great friend to have and to hold for years to come.
 

To learn more about the purpose of play and how toys, games, books, and crafts can help children develop and grow, visit the Gingerbread House Toy Store at 603 S. Hannah Street in Bloomington, or call 309-827-8811. Kate Green, owner, and the experi- enced staff will answer your questions and help you choose fun items to nurture the kids in your life.

 




 

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