There are countless varieties of toys on the market for children today, and as a parent it can be difficult to discern which toys are worth the investment. We live in a fast-paced, high-tech world, which makes it easy to gravitate towards the the toys with the most features, the flashiest lights and multiple sound effects. Are these types of toys truly necessary for child development?

What the Research Shows Us

In the article "Impact of Specific Toys on Play" written by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), NAEYC spoke to Jeffrey Trawick-Smith, a Professor of Early Childhood Education about the studies he has conducted regarding the impact different toys have on children's play. Professor Trawick-Smith directs the annual TIMPANI toy study, during which researchers observe children playing with a variety of toys in a free-play setting. The children's use of the toys is then scored in three areas - thinking/learning/problem-solving, social interaction and creativity. So, what was found out during these studies? 

When interviewed by NAEYC, Professor Trawick-Smith stated the following:

"One trend that is emerging from our studies can serve as a guide to families as they choose toys: Basic is better. The highest-scoring toys so far have been quite simple: hardwood blocks, a set of wooden vehicles and road signs, and classic wooden construction toys. ... There may be a reason these toys have been enjoyed by children over the generations! Simple, classic toys would be our recommendation for families" (NAEYC). 

So, it becomes clear that simplistic, open-ended toys result in more productive play. Professor Trawick-Smith went on to note the following:

"Some toys have a powerful influence on children's thinking, interaction with peers and creative expression. Other toys do not. Some of the toys that look most interesting to adults are not particularly effective in promoting development" (NAEYC). 

Additionally, in his 2018 Peer-Reviewed article, "Toys and Games," scholar Andrew Guest states the following:

"The mass production of consumer toys, and the highly organized nature of much contemporary game play, raises important developmental questions about how social norms are internalized. ...there are concerns that the overwhelming popularity of electronic game play (with estimates suggesting that 91% of U.S. children between ages 2 and 17 play video games) can lead to social isolation and passivity." 

Lastly, we look at the article "Give the Gift of Health - Toys that Benefit Your Child's Development" from Dr. Dimitri Christakis, director of the Center for Child Health, Behavior and Development at Seattle Children’s Research Institute. Dr. Christakis mentions a 2007 study she led that showed children who watched educational videos developing fewer new vocabulary words than children who played with developmentally-appropriate toys, like basic blocks. Dr. Christakis stated,

"Modern toys are typically electronic, with lots of bells and whistles. These leave little to your child’s imagination and can be overstimulating. On the other hand, traditional toys like blocks, dolls and books require your child to be more creative. Children can play with these simpler toys in a variety of ways, while more modern, electronic toys are typically one-trick ponies. A good rule of thumb: your child should bring more to the game than the toy does" (Christakis, 2017).

With electronics being the social norm, it is all too easy to assume that electronic toys are best for children. However, the evidence shows us that electronics often negatively impact social skills by causing children to play more independently as opposed to collaborating with others. Likewise, children who spend more time playing with simplistic toys and less time with screens tend to develop skills like vocabulary at a greater pace. 

 

What Parents Can Take Away From This Information

With the above-mentioned research in mind, it becomes clear that simplistic, open-ended toys are essential for children's development. With "high-tech" items being the social norm, many electronic toys for children have been designed to appeal to the adults purchasing them, rather than being designed with the children's development in mind. Basic, open-ended toys aid in development of social skills, problem-solving skills, critical thinking, creativity and more. This is why we aim to provide open-ended toys to families around the world.

 

Sources

Dimitri Christakis, MD. “Give the Gift of Health: Toys That Benefit Your Child's Development.” On the Pulse, On the Pulse, 11 Oct. 2017, https://pulse.seattlechildrens.org/give-the-gift-of-health-toys-that-benefit-your-childs-development/.

Guest, Andrew M., "Toys and Games" (2018). Psychological Sciences Faculty Publications and Presentations. 10. https://pilotscholars.up.edu/psy_facpubs/10

“What the Research Says: Impact of Specific Toys on Play.” NAEYC, https://www.naeyc.org/resources/topics/play/specific-toys-play.