A recent report by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) titled “Selecting Appropriate Toys for Young Children in the Digital Era” offers guidance that can help you navigate shopping for toys. The best are those that match your child’s developmental skills and abilities, and encourage the development of new skills. Here are a few tips from the report to get you started:
- Symbolic/pretend — Pretending through toy characters (such as dolls, animals and action figures) and toy objects (like food, utensils, cars, planes and buildings) helps children learn to use words and stories to imitate, describe, and cope with real life events and feelings. Imaginary play is a large part of a child’s social and emotional development.
- Fine-motor/adaptive/manipulative — Children can learn problem solving skills with the “traditional favorites” (like blocks, shapes, puzzles and trains). These types of toys support fine motor skills and can improve language and brain development; some may also build early math skills.
- Art — High quality does not mean expensive. Things as simple as cardboard boxes or pads of paper still make little ones happy. Coloring books, crayons, markers, clay and stickers all make great gifts, build creativity, and help improve fine motor skills.
- Language/concepts — Over the past two decades, many traditional toys are now available in electronic versions. However, human interactions are essential for a child’s growth and development. Digital toys should never take the place of real, face-to-face play. Traditional card games and board games (not the video game or app versions), and even toy letters and books create opportunities for you and your child to interact and have fun together.
- Gross motor/physical — Toys that include physical activity (like playing with balls, push and pull toys, ride-on toys and tricycles) help physical development and can improve self-regulation and peer-interaction because of the negotiations around rules that typically take place when kids play together.
For more information, visit aap.org.
Use caution when you see “educational” on the label. The skills young children really need to learn for success in school (and life) include impulse control, managing emotions, and creative, flexible thinking. These are best learned through unstructured and social play with family and friends. Research suggests tablet-based toys may actually delay social development for infants and young children, because they don’t include real life facial expressions, gestures and vocalizations.