The holiday season has arrived. Parents are busy shopping for the latest and greatest toy for their little ones. Friends & family members are brainstorming what to buy for new and expecting parents. Before you dash off to the store or click the purchase button, take a moment to reflect on which toys will do the work they are intended to do. The goal isn’t to buy a toy that will entertain your child for a few hours, then end up in a pile in the playroom. The real objective is to find a toy that engages your child’s mind, imagination and creativity, and promotes her thinking, language, and social skills. Sounds a bit more complicated now, doesn’t it? Luckily, it’s actually quite simple.
Tools of Play
Play is pivotal to a child’s social, cognitive, language and literacy development. When children create castles out of blocks, play hide-and-seek with a parent, or a game of Duck, Duck Goose with peers, they are building critical skills that lay the foundation for success in school and adulthood. Toys are a crucial element of play. In fact, at least 90% of preschool children’s play involves toys. An engaging toy has the power to change a child’s play from simple to symbolic, from repetitive to imaginative, from solitary to social. Simply put, toys transform play.
Take a stroll through any toy store and parents will be bombarded with every new toy, electronic device, and gadget any child could imagine. However, I urge parents & caregivers to make careful & conscious choices about the toys you place in those little hands this holiday season. Certain toys positively influence a child’s thinking, language use, social interactions, and creative expression. Other toys do not. Choose carefully. Your choices matter.
Keep it Simple: Why Basic Toys Are Better
Dr. Jeffrey Trawick-Smith, Professor at Eastern Connecticut State University, is internationally recognized for his research on children’s play and how play enhances language. His research shows one trend is here to stay: basic toys are better. Simple, classic toys are the way to go for babies and this advice holds true for toddlers, preschoolers, and school-age children too. Why? The open-ended nature of simple toys allow children to use them in multiple ways. Simple toys grow and change as children develop. The power of a toy lies in a child’s ability to use his imagination, creative expression and engage in a meaningful interaction with a parent or peer during play. Classic & simple toys are created with that purpose in mind.
Quality, not quantity, is the key. With a child’s imagination at work, a set of wooden blocks can be transformed into an elaborate system of schools, houses and roadways one day, and something entirely different the next. Classic toys are the toys children come back to time and time again, and still find new ways to use them each time. Turns out that some of the flashiest learning toys on the market, aren’t so effective at promoting language, cognitive and social skills after all.
How Gender-Typed Toys Impacts Play
A walk down any toy aisle will quickly reveal which toys are designed for girls and which toys are designed for boys. Parents may wonder why it matters what toy a child is playing with as long it keeps them happy and busy. Toys send powerful messages to children. Judith Elaine Blakemore, Professor of Psychology and Associate Dean of Arts and Sciences for Faculty Development at Indiana University−Purdue University, studies gender role development. When she evaluated gender typing of popular toys on the market, unsurprisingly, her research showed girls’ toys are more often associated with physical attractiveness, nurturing, and domestic skill, while boys’ toys are more often rated as violent, aggressive, competitive, and somewhat dangerous.
So what is a parent to do? Developing an awareness of the impact gender-typed toys have on play and making conscious choices about what toys are added to your child’s toy collection is a good start. Is your little girl’s playroom full of baby dolls & toys that focus on domestic skills like cooking? Work on expanding her toy & play repertoire by introducing more toys that encourage motor, spatial, and science skills, such as blocks, Legos, or Tinkertoys. Research shows us that the goal should be to stay away from strongly gender-typed toys, provide a balance of moderately gender-typed toys, and opt for gender-neutral toys when possible. The good news for parents is the simple, classic toys that are best for play, often are also gender neutral. It’s a win-win.
Looking for specific toy recommendations for your child this holiday season? Sign up for our blog-Babble On–and be the first to receive an e-mail notification when we post our must-have toy list for older toddlers & preschoolers later this month. You can also visit the TIMPANI (Toys that Inspire Mindful Play and Nurture Imagination) Toy Study, or take a look at this video to learn more about children’s play and how play enhances language.