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Dr. Toy Talks about Trends in Toys and Play Towards Technology

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As parents and teachers, we may be wondering if the introduction of technology into the lives of children is changing the way children play, learn, think and express their own creativity. Do the changes signal the demise of traditional toy and game play, or is it possible to encourage and manage both to the benefit of the child?

Most believe there is room for both, and they can be incorporated and remain in balance. We should not think to hold technology back, nor should we try.

Every indication points to the fact that traditional play experiences remain essential for each child's fullest mental, social and educational development. We have also noted that big changes in play products have occurred as chips and apps have infiltrated and expanded into the realm of traditional toys and games.

As a keen observer of these changes since the introduction of the first talking teddy bear, Teddy Ruxpin, followed by AG Bear, as well as games like Pong and the various interactive products originals like Petster, Furby and Webkins, among others, I see both sides and have been skeptical about an overload of technology to the detriment of traditional play and its many great values and benefits.

I want to add that as children, my generation played with toys, games and listened to radio (as there was no TV available), and I never felt deprived, as play was what we created with our imaginations, both in and out of doors.

We want to continue to opt for balance and provide and utilize what is ultimately most beneficial for kids. Children need the basics to fully develop their brain, and this includes using all the senses.

The inclusion of basics such as art supplies, balls, board games, construction toys, crafts, dolls, electric trains, frisbees, hula hoops, jump ropes, plush toys and puppets, skates, teddy bears, transportation toys, wagons and yo-yos will continue to enrich childhoods for a long time to come.

Basics of play experiences lay the groundwork for brain and social development in all children. Actual experiences that engage all the senses should not be circumvented. There are no shortcuts, nor should these opportunities be denied or overlooked.

I want to take the opportunity to remind parents to remember to involve children with the full gamut of great toys, games and creative products and remind them that the toy industry offers an ever-changing role of making toys and other products that are worthwhile, accessible, and fun.

There is a need for a well-balanced approach to tech and non-tech toys in a child's toolbox to develop skills for life. Parents, educators and caregivers who do practice balance and provide this approach will find this is the best option for kids to grow.

Doll expert and writer Virginia Davis shared this experience: "I was traveling in the car with a young lad of about 8 and asked could he identify which trees were dogwoods, magnolia trees, oaks, etc. as we passed them. His answer was, "A tree is a tree. " and then he went back to his hand-held video game."

She adds an observation, "It has been proven that playing some word and number games boosts memory. Parents playing with their children might actually save their future as well as their own."

There are many options available today for innovative play experiences and discovery if we are open to all the innovative possibilities. These experiences include indoor and outdoor play, basic and tech, and a balance of active, creative and educational play.

We want to remind adults that what happens to children depends on what is offered. It depends if parents and educators want their children and students to be able to think creatively, think outside-the-box, or just be able to think and be ready to participate in the future and help create tomorrow's innovations.

Ron Weingartner, a long-time toy and game expert who worked at the Milton Bradley Company and later, with Hasbro Games, has also invented games, and is the co-author with Richard Levy of the The Toy and Game Inventor's Handbook . He confirms that, "Perhaps parents need to understand that they are the gatekeepers of a child's playtime, and it is their responsibility to monitor the mixture and balance of digital and physical playthings and to also participate and share in their activities."

What people experience in their own world of play and learning influences what they think works or doesn't work for children. Almost everyone I know in toys played with traditional toys and find them of value while they add to them to the new experiences available with media for iPhones, iPads and other electronic media.

Although children can learn a great deal from games and apps on their mobile devices, one thing they can't do is interact with other children in the same way they could with traditional toys and games.

I think this applies especially to board games where up to four or six children can compete against each other. There are some very exciting developments in progress which will blur the fine line between education and entertainment. The changes will fully utilize how an individual thinks and behaves using all the senses available including audio, kinesthetic, olfactory, tactile and visual.

In addition to toys and tech products, we note that technology is making changes in children's and other museums where visitors of all ages gain more value from live interaction with museum exhibits. Staff and teachers can, for example, add questions and answers for students to answer and review on their own. If a student misses a question, the information is presented in another format. These are effective ways for technology to support and enhance learning and engage young and older people in the ongoing lifetime learning process.

It would be good to find out what you are thinking about this area. Please share what you observe are the changes in play as you see them. Thanks for your thoughts and the experiences contributed by your comments.

To learn more, read the book, Dr. Toy's Smart Play/Smart Toys: How to Raise a Child with a High P.Q. (Play Quotient), visit the website, Dr. Toy's Guide-www.drtoy.com, or download the new app, Dr. Toy's Best Gift Guide.

© 2013 Stevanne Auerbach, PhD, San Francisco, CA