Parents have a wide range of choices for their kids’ toys today which is undoubtedly good. However, specialists warn us that “complex” toys aren’t necessarily better for our kids’ development.
Simple Toys Are Better For Kids
According to a report released by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) in December 2018, simpler toys offer kids a better learning and developmental curve (1). While phones or tablets are considered “complex” in their design and offer many unique educational and entertainment options, they lack the benefits of simpler toys such as building blocks, puzzles, alphabet cubes, and others.
What these old-fashioned toys offer children is that they push their imagination and force them to be more creative. They train their problem-solving abilities, they teach them about “no-win scenarios” such as when a piece of the building blocks set is missing, and they present real-life problems such as damaged pieces and force improvisation. Plus, they also feel better for the kids because they are three-dimensional and intuitively “real”.
On the other hand, when we give our kids tablets or phones to play with they don’t necessarily learn about the inner workings of these devices – they just learn how to use its softwares. This is an important skill in and of itself, of course, but it’s no substitute to the benefits children can get from other simpler toys.
These and other vital insights were part of AAP’s report called “Selecting Appropriate Toys for Young Children in the Digital Era” (2). In a press release, lead author of the report Aleeya Healey, MD, FAAP said that:
“Toys have evolved over the years, and advertisements may leave parents with the impression that toys with a ‘virtual’ or digital-based platform are more educational. Research tells us that the best toys need not be flashy or expensive or come with an app. Simple, in this case, really is better.”
Physical interaction is vital
Aside from calculating the merits and drawbacks of each type of toy, the report also makes another vital distinction – traditional and physical toys are important because kids instinctively view them as “play toys”. While virtual games played on phones and tablets are technically also “interactive toys”, they don’t feel this way to kids’ subconscious mind. Instead, they are perceived as logical problems that need to be solved even if they are meant to be fun. What’s missing from them, however, is the interactive physical fun of 3D objects in the real world which is crucial for the developing mind of a child.
Another factor here is that kids also need attention from and interaction with other people. While it’s easier to just sit your child in front of the TV or laptop, a child’s subconscious mind requires physical interaction with other people.
Alan Mendelsohn, MD, FAAP also added in the press release that “The best toys are those that support parents and children playing, pretending, and interacting together.”
According to Mendelsohn, digital toys don’t provide the same benefits. Although media-based toys, like videos, computer programs, and books with voice-recorded reading, make claims to be interactive and educationally beneficial, the AAP says that these claims are unsupported.
So, while there’s nothing wrong with letting our children play with phones or laptops from time to time, it’s even more important that we don’t forget about letting them play with real-life, physical, and simpler toys too.