‘Tis the season for buying gifts for your children, but do you know how to select the most appropriate ones? The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) report, Selecting Appropriate Toys for Young Children in the Digital Era, offers guidance that can help you navigate the shopping isles. Remember that the best toys are those that match your child’s developmental skills and abilities and encourage the development of new skills.
Play is essential to optimal child development because it contributes to the cognitive, physical, social, and emotional well-being of children and youth. It also offers an ideal and significant opportunity for parents and other caregivers to engage fully with children using toys as an instrument of play and interaction.
Get Back to Basics: Traditional Toy Categories
Symbolic/pretend – Pretending through toy characters (such as dolls, animals, and action figures) and toy objects (like food, utensils, cars, planes, and buildings) help children learn to use words and stories to imitate, describe, and cope with real life events and feelings. Imagination is the key here! Imaginary play is a large part of a child’s social and emotional development.
Fine-motor/adaptive/manipulative – Children can learn problem solving skills with the “traditional favorites” (like blocks, shapes, puzzles, and trains). These types of toys support fine motor skills and can improve language and brain development. Some of these toys also build early math skills, as well.
Art – High quality does not mean expensive. Things as simple as cardboard boxes or pads of paper still make little ones happy. Coloring books, crayons, markers, clay, stickers all make great gifts, build creativity, and help improve fine motor skills.
Language/concepts – Over the past two decades, many traditional toys are now available in electronic versions. And new toys are built to substitute for human interaction. For example, a toy bear that reads a story aloud or a board game that is now available as an app with virtual players. But actual human interactions are essential for a child’s growth and development. Digital toys should never take the place of real, face-to-face play. Traditional card games and board games (not the video game or app versions) and even toy letters and books create opportunities for you and your child to interact and have fun together.
Gross motor/physical – Toys that include physical activity (like playing with balls, push and pull toys, ride-on toys, and tricycles) help physical development and can improve self-regulation and peer-interaction because of the negotiations around rules that typically take place when kids play together.
Toy Shopping Reminders:
Use caution when you see “educational” on the label. The truth is most tablets, computer games, and apps advertised as “educational,” aren’t. Most “educational” apps target memory skills, such as ABCs and shapes. These skills are only one part of school readiness. The skills young children really need to learn for success in school (and life) include impulse control, managing emotions, and creative, flexible thinking. These are best learned through unstructured and social play with family and friends
Be aware of the potential for toys to promote race or gender-based stereotypes. Just as toys have changed over time, so have our expectations of “what girls do” and “what boys do.” All children need the opportunity to explore different gender roles and different styles of play. Offer children’s books or puzzles showing men and women in non-stereotypical and diverse gender roles (like stay-at-home dads, working moms, male nurses, and female police officers). Have a wide range of toys for your child to choose from―including baby dolls, toy vehicles, action figures, and blocks.
Limit video game and computer game use. Total screen time, including television and computer use, should be less than 1 hour per day for children 2 years or older and avoided for those younger than 2 years of age. Children younger than 5 years should only be allowed to play with developmentally appropriate computer or video games, ideally accompanied by the parent or caregiver.
At the end of the day, you are your child’s best teacher. Wishing you a very Happy Holiday!