It’s easy to get enticed by the latest educational apps and electronic learning toys but there's little evidence to support companies' claims. We do know that children learn best through play and caregiver interaction. While apps can help parents teach their kids memory skills, they are no match for unstructured playtime and social, face-to-face engagement.
In fact, studies suggest too much time spent staring at screens and playing with electronic gadgets can interfere with children's language and motor-skill development, reduce the time they spend connecting with parents, and contribute to obesity.
But it's not just screens: Even non-screen electronic toys, such as robots with flashing lights and sounds, or talking bears that read stories, may divert kids from engaging with others and developing social skills, AAP researchers wrote in Pediatrics.
The best toys for your child don't need to be expensive. Blocks, toy utensils, balls, coloring books, and board games can all make great gifts for your child and promote healthy play. Here are the five types of toys recommended by the AAP:
- Toys for pretending: Dolls, action figures, toy cars, stuffed animals. These toys are great for imaginary play, allowing your child to use words, create stories, and describe feelings, boosting their social and emotional development.
- Fine-motor and manipulative toys: Blocks, shapes, puzzles, trains. These can teach your child problem-solving and early math, and build fine motor skills.
- Art: Coloring books, crayons, markers, stickers, clay. These boost creativity and fine-motor abilities.
- Interactive toys: Books, board games, toy letters, card games. These encourage interaction between you and your child, boosting language development and learning.
- Physically active: balls, push and pull toys, tricycles, large toy cars. These items promote physical activity, and are often good for getting kids to learn how to play together.
The AAP also recommends limiting kids' screen time. Children younger than 18 months should not use screen media at all. For children 18 to 24 months old, you might want to choose high-quality programming only. Limit screen time to one hour or less per day of high-quality programming for kids over 2 and up to 5 years old, the AAP says.
We all know limiting screen time is easier said than done, especially during the holidays, but here are some tips and tricks from other parents on alternatives to screen time. Meanwhile, don't underestimate the unlimited joys of a good old fashioned cardboard box this holiday season.
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