The American Academy of Pediatrics has weighed in on the question of which toys provide the best play value.
It’s not the costliest ones with the most bells and whistles, the electronic goodies that promise to stimulate kids’ brains.
It’s the ones that encourage creative, imaginative play between kids and parents.
Especially for babies and toddlers, playing with toys is not primarily about learning facts and skills, but about developing relationships.
Toys that encourage healthy play
The report identifies 5 categories of beneficial toys.
- Pretend Play Dolls, stuffed animals, and action figures are perfect for imaginative play. They let kids and parents work out stories about interactions and adventures. Cars, feeding utensils, toy foods, and the like can also provide opportunities for pretend play. Avoid letting TV shows provide the plot line for kids’ games.
- Fine Motor Play Blocks, puzzles, sorting toys, and other toys that let kids improve coordination and good for fine motor play. Household objects let kids enjoy this type of play as well. Children enjoy putting keys into bowls, stacking food containers, and sorting objects into boxes.
- Art Crayons, finger paints, play clay, and other creative art supplies are lots of fun. Make sure to use nontoxic art supplies.
- Language Board games, puzzles, books, and letters support language development. Playing together with magnetic letters, coloring words and pictures, and using flannel boards to tell stories all support language development. Concepts like shapes, colors, positions, and more can be part of these games.
- Large Motor Play Tricycles, pull toys, balls, bowling or bean bag toss games — these toys encourage physical play. Balance and physical strength are part of play with these toys.
The report emphasizes that electronic toys can overstimulate kids and distract from interaction with people. While screens are part of our daily lives, the AAP wants to make sure that parents and caregivers don’t think that electronic toys are more educational than classic toys. Research shows that kids actually use less language when playing with electronic toys than when playing with more traditional toys.
96.9% of American kids have used tablets or phones. Unfortunately, this increase in screen time goes along with a decrease in play time. Our kids actually spend less time playing, less time interacting with parents, and less time engaging with toys.
Screen time should be less than one hour a day for kids two and under.
Last minute shopping?
If you’re picking out presents today, think about toys that encourage active, creative play.
If the toys under your tree are all electronic, take a tip from Time Magazine’s report on the new AAP guidelines and save the boxes to play with, too. With just a little imagination, a box can become a house, a car, or a unicorn.