As a new parent, it can be hard to figure out what’s best for your baby when it comes to toys and early learning. There’s a lot of conflicting information out there and conflicting pressure when it comes to marketing from children’s toy companies. With every option telling you, “This toy will make your kid smarter!” how do you know what is truly beneficial? And is “making your kid smarter” the goal you’re actually supposed to strive for?
To help parents sort this out, the American Academy of Pediatrics recently put out a new report: Selecting Appropriate Toys for Young Children in the Digital Era. Its consensus? The best toys are likely the ones you grew up with.
As the AAP says in the report, the perception of toys has evolved from being things children play with to things that are supposed to critically facilitate early brain and child development. But, when simple toys are used by caregivers to engage in play-based interactions with their children that are rich in language, pretending, problem-solving, and creativity – that’s when they learn the most. Play, the actual act of playing, is one of the most important and beneficial parts of a child’s life, and it contributes directly to their cognitive, physical, social, and emotional well-being.
The best toys are likely the ones you grew up with.
For children to develop literacy, problem-solving, and critical-thinking skills and to maintain active minds, their toys must be passive.
Think of it this way: Active toys will light up or sing and entertain your children. Passive toys will do nothing – they let your child learn.
So, yes, you want the right toys for your kids, but they might not be what you’re thinking of or what’s being marketed to you as a parent.
Playtime and interacting with toys are the primary methods by which children acquire many basic skills, including early learning and social skills. Think about how your child plays with cars. Not only is she actively learning about cars but also about how wheels operate, how to utilize the road and road signs, and even how things like gravity and cause and effect work. When that same child sorts those cars, she learns colors, numbers, sizes, and shapes. When that child plays cars with another child, they both learn social skills like cooperation, turn-taking, teamwork, and patience.
So, though toy companies may tout many early learning skills and promise that your child will learn numbers, letters, and many other things as a result of those “learning toys,” the truth is that those skills will come naturally through the course of developmentally appropriate play.
“Some of these toys are very entertaining and they make the child a passive observer,” said Dr. Kathleen Kiely Gouley, an assistant professor of psychiatry at the New York University Child Study Center, in the New York Times. “You want the child to engage with the world. If the toy does everything, if it sings and beeps and shows pictures, what does the child have to do?”
When the toy is simple, a child is forced to be creative, dynamic and engaged on an entirely different level, which enables and promotes development.
The best toys are the ones that let your child learn on their own, and that doesn’t mean they have to be trendy, expensive, or popular and plastered all over magazines and blogs. The simple toys you likely had as a kid are likely still the best options.
When the toy is simple, a child is forced to be creative, dynamic and engaged on an entirely different level, which enables and promotes development. The more they have to use their brains and bodies to make something work, the more they will learn.
Here are our favorite passive toys for babies and toddlers.