The way children play has changed almost entirely in the last few decades, due to the rapid development of technology and emergence of many electrical toys. Even objects that are not primarily made as toys are being used as toys nowadays, like mobile phones, iPads and laptops. It seems that the average age when children start using technology for play is now between one and two years of age. My one year old is definitely not happy when not allowed to watch Snowhite on my, or should I say, our, iPhone.
So, whatever happened to real toys and play? We can’t resist the influence of technology on our lives, but shouldn’t we stop and consider how different toys influence our children’s development? According to scientific research, we should consider how toys influence our children’s thinking, problem solving skills, learning, creativity, social interaction, and physical activity. Here is what they have found.
Basic toys are more conducive to creative play. It has been found that basic, simple toys like wood blocks, wooden construction toys, dolls and vehicles show the best results in terms of children’s development. Since they are relatively simple and open-ended, children can use them differently each time and come up with a variety of games to play with the same objects. This promotes creativity and imagination, whereas more complex toys are less flexible. Going back to the basics and letting our kids play the way most of our ancestors did is still the safest bet.
Household items are good enough for toys. I have noticed an interesting phenomenon with my kids and you have probably seen it too: no matter how modern or expensive the toys I get for our kids are, they quickly lose interest in them and resort to pots, pans and anything else they can get their hands on when in the kitchen. I am now playing along – I’ve filled the lowest kitchen drawer with things they like to play with – pots and pans, plastic cups and plates, straws and other stuff they find interesting. Other household favourites are fridge magnets, alphabet soup and their Zado rug with a world map print. Playing with these they are actually learning something useful, practicing their motor skills and being creative.
Variety promotes holistic development. Children need to play in a variety of ways with different kinds of toys in order to develop different skills, abilities and values. So, you need to provide a variety of toys for them. Motor skills are developed by playing with balls, riding tricycles, bicycles and wagons; logical thinking is promoted by playing with memory games and board games; creativity is fostered by playing with plaster, paint, arts and crafts. In order to instill some emotional intelligence and gender equality in your children, try avoiding toys promoting gender stereotypes. Let them have gender neutral toys like Legos, wood blocks, puzzles, but also allow toys for the opposite gender.
Some toys promote unwanted behavior. This is not a secret but most of these toys that have an obvious bad influence on children’s development are still freely available on the market. Examples of these are toys that promote violence and aggression, like military tankers, toy soldiers, guns and Bobo (hit me toys). Some are downright dangerous and more often than not lead to injuries, like arrows and swords. Girl toys are no better, promoting questionable values, like Bratz and hyper-feminine Barbie dolls. The latest mom invention in fighting these bad influences is wiping doll make up with nail polish and painting normal eyes on dolls: the transformation is amazing!
So, in conclusion, variety is the key to healthy development, provided it includes toys that are promoting the right values or are at least neutral. Household items are ideal in this regard, they model real life and children learn by observing and copying the adults around them. Making small interventions on bought toys to make them more appropriate or even making our household items into toys is certainly going to help our child have a healthier environment to play in. Be aware of what your child is learning and seeing, get creative and grow in a healthy way!
This post is by Tracey Clayton, a full time mom of three girls. She loves cooking, baking, sewing, spending quality time with her daughters and she’s passionate in writing. She is contributor on High Style Life and her motto is: “Live the life you love, love the life you live.” Find her on Facebook.