What kind of toys should parents look for when shopping for their kids? Over the years, toys have evolved from simple wooden blocks to high-tech, computer-powered play. But has this evolution been good for kids? Not really, according to a recent report from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
The report, entitled “Selecting Appropriate Toys for Young Children in the Digital Age,” looked at the trend away from traditional toys to digital and virtual toys that are becoming more common even for younger kids. And researchers concluded that these high-tech toys may not be the best choice for your child.
In the study, pediatricians examined modern toys, many of which emphasize learning instead of just play. Many parents consider a toy’s educational value before purchasing it because they want to give their children a head start on the basic skills they need for school, including a healthy vocabulary, the ABCs, shapes, numbers, etc. In the pursuit of these goals, parents often buy the latest high-tech computer games, kids’ computer tablets, and other devices that flash, beep, and move.
The research shows that these toys are at best aids in memorization, but that most of them are not truly educational, despite the manufacturers’ labels. They do not teach many of the vital skills that young children need to succeed such as managing their emotions, creativity, and flexibility. These skills are developed by letting children have plenty of unstructured play time. In fact, the study shows that the lack of facial expressions, vocal feedback, and physical gestures from these toys can delay a child’s social development.
The AAP concludes that “old-fashioned” toys are best. Apparently those nostalgic, low-tech toys of the past outdo modern toys in educational value for young children!
The AAP found that the following toy categories were the best choices for children:
- Symbolic/Pretend—This category includes the standard dolls, stuffed animals, action figures, trucks, planes, etc. These toys allow children to imitate the actions of adults, create stories, and learn to deal with life’s realities. In short, they exercise the imagination, which is the most educational task of all.
- Art—This category is easy and inexpensive. Crayons, markers, stickers, Play-Doh, and other art supplies please the little ones and allow them to improve their fine motor skills while strengthening their creativity. A cardboard box and some classic crayons can keep a young one entranced for ages.
- Fine-motor/adaptive/manipulative—While this category sounds complicated, it is not. Children who play with blocks, puzzles, and toy vehicles learn how to problem solve and improve their motor skills. These toys are good for language and math skills as well.
- Language—Children now can play with automated story-telling creatures and computerized games. These toys seem like a good idea because kids don’t need a willing adult or other child to play with them. However, they actually limit human interaction, which is key for any child’s development. They need to play with other people. So buying kids an original board game and playing the game with them has surprising benefits.
- Gross Motor Skills—You may want to rethink the idea of buying your child a motorized miniature car. The experts say kids are better off with ride-on toys that they have to propel themselves. The physical activity is good for all kids and helps them develop coordination. Playing ball or taking turns on a slide also helps your child’s social abilities. Get them toys that make them move and cooperate with others.
The AAP also urges parents to avoid falling prey to gender or racial stereotypes. Let your children play with toys that interest them instead of imposing your expectations on their play.
You can choose the best educational, most enjoyable toys without once purchasing something that needs batteries or an electric charge. You may have to fight the urge to buy your kids the latest and greatest computing device. After all, you want them to have the best. But according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the best kind of toys are the basic ones kids have been playing with for years. Dolls, tricycles, airplanes, rubber balls: these are all good for their development. They just happen to be great for your budget as well. And let’s face it: the youngest ones will end up playing with the boxes anyway.