High Tech Hype – “Educational” Toys?

Picking a Toy to Promote Child Development

(Chicago, IL) Stuffed animals that teach Spanish? Electronic pencils that correct spelling mistakes? Video gaming systems that teach addition and subtraction? What can be next? Magic paper that drafts essays on its own?

With new high-tech toys and gadgets introduced nearly everyday, it’s hard for parents to keep up. Toys claiming to be “educational” promise to do everything from boost a child’s IQ to teach a new language. However, electronic toys with fancy buttons, shiny lights and catchy tunes, often do not deliver on these promises.

Research shows that children learn best through play, especially when parents provide them with opportunities to explore, use their imaginations and problem solve on their own (2007, Temple University Infant Lab). In fact, many educators believe that children still learn best with the same basic toys and educational supplies we grew up with. For example, a simple pack of crayons, scissors and craft supplies can keep a child busy while teaching hand-eye coordination and encouraging creativity. Similarly, while building blocks are simple, they provide countless opportunities for open-ended play where your child is in charge of what to do.

When picking your child’s next toy, look for more than the flashy lights and high-tech features. Most importantly, find a developmentally appropriate toy or activity which actively engages your child. This means limiting toys that only require a child to sit and follow one set of pre-determined instructions. Instead, look for toys that promote child-centered play where creativity and imagination are encouraged. For example, why not design and build a bridge for a train to cross? Toys that provide opportunities for parents and children to play together are even better for promoting positive interaction. Spending even 10 minutes with your child in free play is priceless. Also, check out toys that teach life skills like teamwork and problem-solving. Finally, select toys that build on your child’s interests. For instance, why not give your budding scientist a magnifying glass and beakers for conducting your own science experiments together?

While there are some fun high-tech toys for your child, don’t discount the value in toys that have been around for years like dolls, cars, wooden blocks, crayons, and craft beads. Next time your child asks for the latest must-have, take out some tried and true classics and spend an afternoon playing together instead.