The American Association of Pediatricians (AAP) has a message for parents: Basic toys are better for kids.
“Remember that a good toy does not have to be trendy or expensive. Indeed, sometimes the simplest toys may be the best, in that they provide opportunities for children to use their imagination to create the toy use, not the other way around.”
While it’s natural to want to get flashy toys from time to time, the real value for kids lies in the basics.
Toys that encourage reciprocity between a child and a caregiver offer the most benefit to a child. It’s this engagement between a child and another actual person – not a machine – that holds the real power.
This kind or interactive relationship between an adult and child is also one of the great benefits of reading to kids. There are so many excellent books for toddlers and books for preschoolers to choose from, and this can become a special part of your daily routine.
But back to play.
Children use play to process emotion, foster relationships, and strengthen their cognitive, physical, social and emotional well-being.
This is not done consciously on the part of the child. But the benefits of play are well known in the field of child development.
These benefits come to kids naturally through play. They’re especially potent when a child has the chance to play interactively with an adult.
When a battery operated or screen based toy enters the equation, the child misses out on many of the benefits that basic toys offer.
Toys that promote relationship building between children and their caregivers or peers hold far more value than fancy “gadgets” and so called “educational” toys.
We can inadvertently corrupt a child’s play, despite our good intentions.
Researchers know that early brain development is highly sensitive to human interaction, and there is simply no substitute for this.
While games and apps might be fun for kids, these high tech options cannot provide what basic toys can. They can’t provide the opportunity for kids to develop their own imaginations, or encourage bonding with other people.
Electronics, in particular, have been associated with reductions in cognitive and/or language and gross motor activities.
The AAP wants parents to be aware of the implications for child development with the widespread adoption of high tech toys. This is important, as many parents are under the impression that these toys are beneficial for their child’s education.
While some moderate time spent on screens is ok (in our house we allow some TV as well as Sheppard Software for our Kindergartener), the AAP recommends no more than an hour a day for kids over the age of two.
So what makes a high quality toy?
In general, simple toys tend to be better for kids.
In fact, if you want to get the very best toys for your child, go back to the basics: dolls, blocks, balls, games, and art supplies.
The AAP makes these suggestions regarding toys –
- Toys that are symbolic in nature or that kids are able to manipulate and create art with are good choices.
- So are pretend play toys that allow a child to practice conversation with an adult or peer.
Adults often mistakenly believe that toys that DO a lot (i.e. light up, make sounds, and are otherwise sensory-stimulating) are helpful in their child’s development.
Pediatricians say the opposite is true.
“There is presently no evidence to suggest that possible benefits of interactive media match those of active, creative, hands-on, and pretend play with more traditional toys.”
If you’re interested in taking childhood back to the basics, I would highly recommend the book Simplicity Parenting. It’s my absolute favorite resource on this topic!
You can read the AAP’s report in it’s entirety here: Selecting Appropriate Toys for Young Children in the Digital Era.