It is no secret that children develop many skills by playing. As we learn more about the importance that toys in a child’s development, there is increased focus in choosing the correct toys to stimulate and support skill development.
Now that there is wide access to the Internet and we are more connected than ever, it seems like everyone is trying to target the market of educational toys and even educational mobile apps, educational videos, etc. That means parents be must be extra careful in choosing the toys that we supply children, because every minute playing with the wrong toy is a minute wasted of playing with the right toys… and there are many of those targeting children every day.
What to focus on
The American Academy of Pediatrics recently published in their journal of Pediatrics a clinical report called Selecting Appropriate Toys for Young Children in the Digital Era. It highlights the importance in making sure that the toys we choose for our children. To make the decision, there are five important areas that must be considered:
- Social-emotional skills: it is wise to choose toys that will aid in the development of social skills through social interactions, such as those that require taking turns or sharing. This also point us at games that promote interaction with real human beings instead of Artificial Intelligence toys. Some toys and games that classically required more than one person to use, are quickly being replaced by electronic versions that isolate the child from real human interactions.
- Literacy skills: toys that promote language and concept-learning skills can seem like an obvious choice, but did you know, that their electronic counterparts do not provide the whole-package of learning experience that the classic toys do? Examples are toy letter blocks, books, and traditional board games.
- Science, math and spatial skills: puzzle play with traditional puzzle toys are a great inexpensive way to address these skills. They can support fine motor skills and language and cognitive development and predicts both spatial and early mathematics skills.
- Imaginative and creative play: Toys that help in playing make-believe and/or free play such as toy characters (e.g. dolls, stuffed toys) and toy objects (e.g. toy cars, toy food) help children to learn the use of words to describe real life events and feelings and can even help them to learn how to cope with these.
- Electronic media exposure: electronic games and other electronic media exposure can seem enticing because they are often labeled as “educational”. To be fair, certain interactive electronic games have shown some learning benefits, but these have failed to demonstrate being better than traditional toys in those benefits. One must always remember the other side to the use of these electronics in children, including the exclusion of human interactions that can be as subtle as missing a peer’s facial expression, but can have meaningful consequences. There are guidelines delineating the recommended electronic media exposure for children.
- <2 years: limited exposure, such as video-chatting with family, with parents present.
- 2-5 years: no more than 1 hour of screen per day
- 5 years and older: limit to developmentally appropriate electronic media content and ideally accompanied by parent.
Key points to remember
- The most important part of playing with toys, especially during infancy, is not for the toy to teach the child things, but more of toys in a role of facilitating supportive interactions and relationships.
- The most educational toys are those that foster interactions between children and their parents.
- Remember to choose toys that are adequate for the child’s developmental stage.
- Don’t be afraid use simple, affordable but safe toys that will provide support for child development. While it is great to experience play through multiple sense, there’s is no need to overstimulate kids with fancy flashing and noise producing devices. Toys do not have to be trendy and expensive to be good. Sometimes the simplest toys provide the most room for kids to use their imagination.
- Social-emotional skills are developed in childhood when kids use pretend play to work out real-life problems!
- Remember books! Children’s books are great to inspire ideas for pretend play sessions with toys. They can be found in local libraries, so they are very accessible regardless of budget.
- Be aware of the potential of toys to promote rigid race- or gender-based stereotypes.
- Remember to include toys that will encourage the child to be mentally as well as physically active.
Selecting Appropriate Toys for Young Children in the Digital Era
Aleeya Healey, Alan Mendelsohn, COUNCIL ON EARLY CHILDHOOD
Pediatrics Dec 2018, e20183348; DOI: 10.1542/peds.2018-3348 http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2018/11/29/peds.2018-3348