December 7, 2018
As the holiday shopping season enters full swing, the American Academy of Pediatrics has released a well-timed clinical report1 on the best toys to support child development, executive functioning, and self-regulation. And the winners are clear: low-tech classics that propel creativity, movement, and personal connections.
Play – and the devices children use to engage in it – has changed in recent years. Wooden blocks and action figures are endangered species — replaced by the latest educational gadgets that promise to enhance your child’s learning and build his brain.
Many parents lament their kids’ technology use, and its solitary nature, looking back nostalgically on holidays spent playing board games with cousins. And expensive tablets or game consoles certainly cost more than Monopoly.
What’s more, according to the AAP, high-tech toys are actually inferior — particularly for developing brains. “Toys have evolved over the years, and advertisements may leave parents with the impression that toys with a ‘virtual’ or digital-based platform are more educational,” said lead author Aleeya Healey, M.D., FAAP in a press release. “Research tells us that the best toys need not be flashy or expensive or come with an app. Simple, in this case, really is better.”
A toy’s most important function is to operate as a tool to encourage play and collaboration – with peers, parents, and loved ones — says the AAP. “The best toys are those that support parents and children playing, pretending, and interacting together,” said co-author Alan Mendelsohn, MD, FAAP in a press release. “You just don’t reap the same rewards from a tablet or screen. And when children play with parents the real magic happens, whether they are pretending with toy characters or building blocks or puzzles together.”
While electronic toys often advertise learning benefits, many of these claims are unsubstantiated. In fact, high-tech devices may be harmful – especially when they cut in to the crucial parent-child communication that fosters creativity and development.
The AAP recommends choosing toys that:
- Foster interactions between caregivers and children
- Are not overstimulating
- Encourage mental and physical activity
- Inspire your child’s imagination
The AAP also cautions parents to limit screen time, read children’s books, and be aware that some toys can promote race- or gender-based stereotypes. The best toys are the classics — trains, dolls, card games, cooking sets, bikes, and puzzles — that will grow with your child as she advances developmentally.
1 Aleeya Healey, and Alan Mendelsohn. “Selecting Appropriate Toys for Young Children in the Digital Era.” From the American Academy of Pediatrics Clinical Report , December 3, 2018. doi: 10.1542/peds.2018-3348