Go ‘back to the future’ for buying good children’s toys this holiday season
Toys should spark imagination and creativity, developmental psychologists advise
With the economic pinch hitting the North Pole as much as anywhere else this holiday season, would-be Santa’s should look to be more creative about the toys they buy their young children.
Whether it’s high-tech or low-tech, toys should spark imagination and creativity, promote physical activity and encourage social interaction, says Temple University developmental psychologist Kathy Hirsh-Pasek.
“The overarching principle is that children are creative problem-solvers; they’re discoverers; they’re active,” says Hirsh-Pasek, the Lefkowitz Professor of Psychology at Temple and co-director of the Temple University Infant Lab. “You want toys that allow your child to be active and to build his or her imagination around. What you don’t want are passive toys that command what your child does in their play.”
Hirsh-Pasek says the types of toys she favors for young children are construction-type, arts and crafts, musical instruments and games that require the involvement of others.
“Any toy that sparks a young child’s imagination and creativity — which is a dying commodity — is probably a toy that a parent should seriously consider,” says Hirsh-Pasek. “They say toy trains are making a comeback this year, and that’s fabulous. It’s a construction-type toy that can serve as a prop for a storyline that allows the child to use his or her imagination.”
Hirsh-Pasek and her collaborator, Roberta Golinkoff, who heads the Infant Language Project at the University of Delaware, say that toys are educational when they nurture the skills sets important in the 21st Century world: collaboration, communication, creative thinking and a sense of confidence.
“Kids are not like empty vessels to be filled,” adds Golinkoff. “If they play with toys that allow them to be explorers, they are more likely to learn important lessons about how to master their world.”
Hirsh-Pasek and Golinkoff, co-authors of A Mandate for Playful Learning and Einstein Never Used Flashcards, offer parents the following advice, guidelines and questions to ask when choosing the proper toys for their young children:
Look for a toy that is 10 percent toy and 90 percent child — “A lot of these toys direct the play activity of our children by talking to them, singing to them, asking them to press buttons and levers,” says Hirsh-Pasek. “But our children like to figure out what is going on by themselves. I look for a toy that doesn’t command the child, but lets the child command it.”
Toys are meant to be platforms for play — “Toys should be props for a child’s playing, not engineering or directing the child’s play,” adds Golinkoff.
How much can you do with it? — “If it’s a toy that asks your child to supply one thing, such as fill-in-the-blank or give one right answer, it is not allowing children to express their creativity,” says Hirsh-Pasek. “I look for something that they can take apart and remake or reassemble into something different, which builds their imagination.”
Does the toy encourage social interaction? — “It’s fine for your child to have alone time, but it is great for them to be with others,” says Golinkoff. “I always look to see if more than one child can play with the toy at the same time because that’s when kids learn the negotiation skills they need to be successful in life.”