Children develop fine motor skills by grasping beads of various sizes. Larger beads allow younger kids to use their entire hand to grasp the bead. Smaller beads allow older children to practice their pincer grasp and finger agility. The process of stringing a bead also helps children practice the process of picking something up and manipulating it in such a way to make it fit onto a piece of string. Children are also developing their hand-eye coordination when they practice manipulating the bead.
One of the first type of beading activities that younger children may be introduced to is a bead maze. It encourages children to use their hands to manipulate the bead on the wire without the difficulty of actually stringing it onto a bead first. It also prevents babies from eating the beads! It also helps babies develop their spatial awareness as they move the beads.
As children grow older, they can also start to recognize and create patterns in their beads. This process develops their visual perceptual skills and is also one of the fundamental skills in developing math concepts. Repeating patterns teach children to visualize and predict what comes next. Another example is learning how to extend patterns helps with mathematical concepts such as addition and multiplication.
Here are a couple awesome website that illustrates how to help children learn more about patterns:
Simple Patterns: Foundation Level
Here is an awesome article on age appropriate toys and how parents can help children learn through play!
Children Learn Through Play
Here are a couple interesting articles about the case for gender neutral toys.
Let Toys be Toys
What the Research Says: Impact of Specific Toys on Play