Before spending good money on the newest, brightest, loudest, fanciest toy for that awesome child in your life, the American Academy of Pediatrics has some advice in a clinical report on “selecting appropriate toys for young children in the digital age”:
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.
The authors of the clinical report advise parents and caretakers:
• A good toy does not have to be trendy or expensive. The best toys are those that support warm, verbally rich interactions and quality time for the parent or caregiver and the child.
• Choose toys that will grow with the child, encourage exploration and problem-solving, and spark the child’s imagination, such as puppets and blocks.
• Reading aloud and play go hand-in-hand in supporting social-emotional, cognitive, language and early literacy development. Use children’s books to develop ideas for pretending together while playing with toys. Learn about programs available at the local library.
• Limit screen time based on AAP recommendations. For children younger than 18 months, avoid use of screen media. For children 18 to 24 months, choose high-quality programming. For children older than 2 years, limit media to one hour or less per day of high-quality programming.
Try going low-tech when buying presents for kids:
“The more we know about early brain development, the more we understand the need for play that is based on human interaction,” Dr. Healey said. “There is no screen, video game or app that can replace the relationships built over toys.”
On her excellent pediatrics blog page, Ask Dr. Jen, Dr. Jennifer Trachtenberg reinforces the AAP’s message on toy buying this holiday season:
Toys are really a tool, that can be used to help bring meaningful interactions between you and your child that can foster language skills, motor skills and social-emotional development. These are very important aspects of play, more so than one gets from electronic, battery operated toys and so called “educational apps” for babies. Most of these claims are unsubstantiated, with little or no scientific evidence, particular in young infants, and may be potentially harmful if used in excess.
Dr. Jen’s tips on buying toys for tots should spark imagination and creativity in your little Einstein:
Think old school. Remember when you were young, you had the animal farm, or doll house that didn’t have a working doorbell or a battery operated cow that said moo. You had to act it out yourself. This pretend play helps with creativity and imagination instead of quick reinforcement from electric generated sounds.
Dr. Jen reminds us that books make outstanding gifts for children of all ages:
Books are always beneficial. Whether you are reading to your child or they are at an age they can start reading simple books, this activity not only helps with language and vocabulary but also a great way to bond with your child.
The AAP advises parents to get back to the basics, and warns:
• 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. Research suggests tablet-based toys may actually delay social development for infants and young children, because they don’t include real life facial expressions, gestures, and vocalizations.
• 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.
The same care in choosing appropriate toys applies for children with special needs, says the AAP’s Tricia Korioth:
• Choose toys for your child’s developmental (not chronological) age. Children with special needs have a unique risk for injury if their physical or behavioral development does not match the age on the package, according to a 2016 study.
• Watch for choking hazards. If your child is small for her age or has a swallowing condition, avoid toys with small parts, balls, marbles or balloons.
• Look for toys that help parents and children play together. This helps kids explore with pretend play and creativity. Being involved in these fun activities also helps parents notice their child’s strengths and achievements, the AAP says.
• Ask your child’s therapist for ideas. Speech, occupational or physical therapists can suggest toys, activities and interactions to help your child master new play skills at home.
• Adjust the toy to fit the child. Putting foam, Velcro, larger buttons and other aids on a toy can help children with motor, visual or other disabilities enjoy play.
• Limit digital screen “toys.” Children and adults talk less when they play with electronic toys, according to the AAP. Traditional toys inspire active, creative pretend play.
• Books are toys. Read with your child to inspire ideas for pretend play. The AAP recommends that parents read to or with their children every day.
We addressed toy safety on The PediaBlog last month. Read more on this topic from the AAP here.