What are special considerations when thinking about electronic toys and games?
Sometimes it seems that books have lost their appeal to children (and to adults), but this may be simply competition between traditional forms of learning and new electronics that appear compelling.
Children need to read from books, hear stories read aloud and also draw, write creatively and play with many different kinds of products (paper, clay, art supplies, puzzles, blocks, dolls, soft toys like puppets, musical instruments, etc.) for optimal learning and for their own enjoyment.
Electronic toys, regardless of how many "bells and whistles" they have, should not ever replace the essential experience of reading a book, enjoying a story read aloud or playing with real toys, playthings and other objects and creating with one's hands, whether it's finger painting or building a tower of blocks.
Too often, electronics take over and grab our full attention, and adults and children forget to interact with a real person, take time out to play or take the time for a real conversation.
I do think electronics are excellent "tools" for rapid exchanges, making plans, quickly sending information and even playing good games for brief periods of time. Balance is essential and is often overlooked.
But, electronics and high-tech toys cannot replace much-needed personal contact, real human interaction and real "in the moment" playtime.
A good example of this is playing a "cooperative" board game and having fun together as a family in contrast to playing alone on a computer, using an electronic game device or only playing games where there are winners and losers.
Social interaction is what is most valuable for full human development and optimal well-being.
What are some different types of toys?
Select toys that offer a good balance and enrich children's skills and creative opportunities. Include products that offer open-ended play like blocks; physical play like balls; silly toys like a jack-in-the-box for its fun and surprise responses; and, of course, electronics that are in balance with non-tech toys.
Activity toys develop coordination, improve small and large motor skills and balance. Begin with balls and bean bags; add a tricycle, bike, wagon or skates. A jump rope and a kite are great for outdoor fun. Always check whether your child is ready for the activity.
Also, don't forget the valuable experiences of gardening, nature walks, and exploring outdoors.
Creativity toys stimulate self-expression. The child can create with crayons, finger-paints, watercolors, clay and craft sets. Children learn from following directions and a sequence of activities and gain satisfaction in completing a project.
Don't forget activities like making something new with a cardboard box to stimulate imagination, singing or listening to or making music or trying other creative projects.
Learning toys contribute to the acquisition of knowledge. These toys include books, tapes, videos, software, CDs, puzzles and board games. The child should read books, listen to music, solve puzzles and play games. Take time to read a story or create a puppet show. Discuss programs watched on TV or a recent movie attended.
Don't forget that there is a lot of learning that goes on when you build together with blocks and varied construction toys, play board games and solve puzzles.
When a child has a preference for particular kinds of toys, is that something to encourage or should parents try to get their child to expand?
It's best to expose children to many alternatives so that they can appreciate many styles while forming their own preferences.
Older children have a wide range of interests. They continue to enjoy play, but they are able to handle more complexity -- in games, projects, products and activities.
You will learn a lot if you listen to what children like and why. You may not agree, but understand their preferences as a sign of their own personality growth and emerging peer relationships that are exceedingly important as they mature.
© 2012 Stevanne Auerbach, Ph.D. Dr. Toy