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Does It Really Matter What Your Toddler Plays With?

Educational Toys for Young Children
Educational Toys for Young Children
Photo by Tim Whitby

In this age of tablets and smart phones, is it really that harmless to let your toddler spend time playing with an app or two, especially if they are educational? Surprisingly, the answer is yes.

Even the best educational apps are more like tests. They teach skills and facts that are limited to their specific function and nothing more. Knowing the state capitals is great and learning about chlorophyll production or facts about animals is also good, but staring at a screen to do so is not.

You have probably read, or at least heard about, the recommendations that children under 2 get NO screen time and children older than two be limited to 1-2 hours daily. Why is that really?

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, too much TV leads to obesity, increased aggression and reinforcement of gender and racial stereotypes as well as exposure to risky behaviors.

Kids in the toddler and preschooler stage are like sponges, soaking up everything around them and they will learn from whatever they are exposed to in media and on our televisions, phones and tablets. It is the job of parents to make sure that they approve of what their toddlers are learning.

Many of us were aware of these recommendations, but just what constitutes a good learning toy for your child?

If you walk into any toy store you will get a thousand different answers for that question, but most child development experts will tell you that the best children toys are those that encourage "open-ended play".

One can define toys that encourage open-ended play as toys that can be used in a thousand different ways and can help promote creativity and imagination. Most of these toys will also encourage young children to interact and play together and can be used by any child in any setting. Take some color blocks for instance. They can, of course, be used to build however they can also be pretend marshmallows for a pretend campfire. They can also be pretend food for a play market. With kids and their developing young minds, anything is possible.

Toys that promote co-operative play and the stretching of the imagination teach us things about life that a screen cannot teach. Your child will learn to be creative. By seeing a toy as a hundred different things, he will already know how to literally "think outside of the box".

When playing with objects that sometimes require another person to sustain a believable narrative, he will learn how to read body language, to listen when another is speaking and to observe what is happening around him for important cues. Screens cannot due that. Let’s all vow this holiday season to take a step back and put that tablet back on the shelf and reach for some good educational toys instead.

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