Updated: Jun 24
Toys are not just simple playthings but can also be powerful educational tools that foster cognitive development, shape values, and promote essential life skills. One type of toy that has gained popularity in recent years is specimen toys. Specimen toys are small objects or models of animals, plants, insects, minerals, and other natural or man-made items that children can hold, examine, and play with.
Specimen toys are unique in many ways: They engage children's senses, develop their observation skills, and support their understanding of science and nature. At the same time, they offer a hands-on, playful, and accessible way for children to connect with the world around them and broaden their cognitive and social horizons.
In this article, we will explore the educational benefits of playing with specimen toys, backed by research and practical examples. We will also offer tips for parents and educators on how to choose, use, and integrate specimen toys into children's everyday learning environments.
Enhancing Scientific Inquiry and Knowledge
One of the primary educational benefits of specimen toys is their ability to spark scientific curiosity and inquiry in children. By playing with these toys, children can learn about the biological, geological, and ecological features of the world and understand how they are interrelated.
In particular, specimen toys can help children comprehend difficult scientific concepts, such as taxonomy, anatomy, and ecological systems, by making them tangible and visual. For example, a set of animal specimens like whales, dolphins, and sharks can illustrate the similarities and differences between different species, their habitats, and behaviors.
Specimen toys can also foster children's knowledge and appreciation of the natural world, which is crucial for environmental stewardship and sustainability. By seeing and touching specimens, children can develop an awareness of the diversity, beauty, and fragility of nature and become more motivated to protect it.
A study published in the Journal of Science Education and Technology found that hands-on science learning experiences, including using specimens, positively influenced students' scientific attitudes and understanding. They developed a deeper appreciation for science and were more motivated to learn.
Developing Observation and Classification Skills
Another key benefit of specimen toys is that they enhance children's observation and classification skills, which are essential cognitive skills for science, math, reading, and other subjects.
A paper published in Educational Psychology Review suggests that the exploration and/or manipulation of objects and materials has a prominent impact on their understanding of the world in early education, especially observation and classification skills.
When playing with specimen toys, children learn to observe and compare different features of objects according to size, shape, texture, color, and other attributes. For instance, they can sort animal specimens based on their food sources, body structures, or behaviors and classify mineral specimens according to their hardness, luster, and crystal form.
By engaging in these classification activities, children can also develop their vocabulary, language, and communication skills and learn how to express ideas, ask questions, and make connections.
Research conducted by the American Psychological Association summarized 20 principles of teaching and learning in early education and a few of them aligns with the idea that hands-on activities and manipulative materials, like specimen toys, support children's cognitive development, particularly in areas such as problem-solving, attention, and memory.
Promoting Social and Emotional Growth
Specimen toys can also promote children's social and emotional growth by providing them with opportunities for collaboration, communication, and empathy.
When playing with specimen toys, children can work together to identify, classify, and create their collections of items. They can discuss and compare their findings, share ideas, and negotiate solutions. These interactions can promote teamwork, communication, and social skills that are vital for success in school and life.
Moreover, playing with specimen toys can help children develop empathy and respect for others and their perspectives. For example, when examining specimens, children can learn about the characteristics, behaviors, and adaptations of different animals and how they fit into the ecosystem. According to a study published in the International Journal of Early Childhood Environmental Education, preschoolers who engaged in nature-based play, including exploring specimens, showed increased levels of empathy, cooperation, and positive environmental attitudes.
Connecting the Classroom With the Real World
Furthermore, specimen toys can serve as a bridge between the classroom and real-world experiences. Traditional education often limits students to textbooks and two-dimensional images. However, with specimen toys, learners can engage with authentic objects, experiencing the thrill of discovery firsthand. For instance, a frog life cycle kit can transport a child through a whole life cycle of a frog, from a little egg to an adult, allowing them to hold remnants of different morphoses and understand the concept of life changing. This experiential learning provides a deeper understanding of concepts that might otherwise remain abstract.
Tips for Choosing and Using Specimen Toys
To make the most of the educational benefits of specimen toys, parents and educators should consider several factors when choosing and using these toys:
Safety: Make sure that the specimens are safe for children to handle and do not pose a choking hazard. Avoid specimens that are sharp, toxic, or made of hazardous materials.
Relevance and Diversity: Choose specimen toys that are age-appropriate, relevant to children's interests and experiences, and offer a range of diversity in terms of species, size, and complexity.
Hands-On Activities: Provide children with opportunities for hands-on activities, such as sorting, classifying, and creating their collections of specimens. Encourage children to ask questions, imagine, and explore.
Integration and Extension: Incorporate specimen toys into other learning activities, such as reading books about animals and their habitats, watching nature documentaries, or doing outdoor exploration. Use specimen toys to spark children's curiosity and extend their knowledge and skills in multiple areas.
The benefits of specimen toys are truly remarkable and have the potential to positively impact a child's development in numerous ways. From enhancing cognitive skills to promoting creativity and fostering social interactions, this toy has proven to be a valuable asset in a child's journey of growth and learning.
It's worth noting that specimen toys are not limited to children alone. Adults can also benefit from their educational and therapeutic qualities. For individuals interested in nature, these toys offer a chance to expand their knowledge and deepen their understanding of specific areas of study. They can serve as tools for relaxation and stress relief, allowing adults to immerse themselves in the beauty of the natural world and take a break from their daily routines.