Toys and learning

Kind of “a day late and a dollar short” after Christmas–let’s discuss best toys for child learning and development.  The American Academy of Pediatrics recently published new data on this (we are not directly addressing toy SAFETY here).

Firstly, if you like computers and tech–great.  However, recall that extended screen time has numerous disadvantages–limits imagination and creativity, can disrupt sleep and cause headaches.  To say nothing of expense! AAP guidelines suggest NO screen time < 2 years, 1 hour/day thereafter(excluding screen communication like Facetime with grandparents!).  Many of these toys claim to be “educational” but that is of questionable validity.  How are we defining the term?   Increased screen time may compromise impulse control, critical thinking, problem solving, and imagination (the program often does things for you) as well as language skills development.  Humans learn to interpret language in conjunction with cues like tone, volume, facial expression, body stance and position(“body language”).  Staring at a screen provides nothing here and may even inhibit that learning.  As so much of screen time is still a solitary endeavor it adds little to social interaction learning as well.

A related issue is “bells and whistles.”  Toys with lots of lights, sounds, actions/movements can be fascinating; but can do “too much”–distracting the child and preventing free imagination and creativity, again, doing those things for the player instead of the player doing it himself.  Often the fewer moving parts/components the better.

So what do good toys do?  Basic principles like cultivating good fine and gross motor function, language and social interaction skills are a good starting point.  It should allow her to play, explore, stimulate imagination and creativity, cultivate problem solving and critical thinking skills. Principles like “imitation” and “approximation”–aka “make believe” –mimicking adult daily activity and functioning skills are beneficial.

More specifics?  Blocks, shapes, balls of all sizes, push/pull/ride on toys promote gross motor development.  Puzzles, interlocking objects, toys with sand and water benefit fine motor skills.  Art objects are terrific–paint, crayons, colored pens and pencils, coloring books, play-doh, “silly putty”–provide endless possibilities to explore and create.  Traditional board games (“Chutes and Ladders”, “Candyland” checkers  for younger kids, “Monopoly”, “Clue”, “Life”, chess for older kids–lots of others) and old fashioned playing card games can enhance math, strategy, even team work as well as social exchange.  Imitation objects like tea and/or kitchen sets, make believe cleaning objects (brooms, vacuum cleaners),  toy tools, dress up objects, even SIMPLE action figures like toy soldiers and cowboys or dolls are flexible and versatile play enhancers/stimulators.

See?  Look how much you’ve done without logging on or using any electricity!

Bottom line? The key component to make a toy “educational” is YOU.  I always say–you are your child’s best teacher and their best toy.  So whether a computer or just a cardboard box–the more you engage, interact, participate in their play, the more educational the toy becomes.  Best of all-you’ll HAVE FUN, and create happy memories for you both while doing it.

Happy New Year to all, and thanks for following.

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