Seems obvious, but apparently it's not!

This weekend I got an email from Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood which had a link to this year’s TRUCE (Teachers Resisting Unhealthy Children's Entertainment) Toy Action Guide: Toys of Value list, released in time for the holidays. While Hubby and I aren't at the stage where we're buying many toys for the baby-to-be yet (although I can't seem to resist books!), I found the list interesting, and I really like that it reinforces the value of non-electronic toys. While every child will have some battery operated toys, I find a lot of the ones on the market (even the so-called 'educational' toys) to be glorified babysitters which don't give kids much human interaction, and don't let them be creative. I'd prefer that my children have more traditional toys that foster imaginative play.

The email I received also linked to an article that talks about the Toys of Value list, and the prevalence of electronic toys on the market today: Kids Don't Get Building Blocks of Learning from High-Tech Play, which made some interesting points:

Contrast [the Toys of Value list] with the Toys ‘R’ Us 2006 Fabulous 15 Best of the Holiday list, which includes only two toys that don’t use batteries or a screen, or with Hasbro’s Something for Everyone 2006 Holiday list, which boasts the return of the Baby Alive Doll, whose updated version requires four batteries so she can ‘‘eat and poop, just like a real baby,’’ and Star Wars Force Action Lightsaber, ‘‘the most authentic lightsaber-playing experience ever,’’ batteries not included. Of the 26 toys included, all but four are electronic or require batteries.

Levin and others who study the relationship between toys, play, and development say toys with electronics bypass the process by which young children learn about cause and effect, including cause and effect of the human kind, such as body language and nonverbal clues. The more high-tech toys a child has and the younger he or she is when they’re introduced, the bigger the potential problem. ... "These kinds of toys entice parents ..... but they undermine the process of being an active agent, of being a problem solver," Levin says.

"There’s a critical part of the brain thought to be responsible for reading signals and feeling empathy and relating to other people, part of the orbital prefrontal cortex, that develops early on. But it needs input from real-life people," says Healy, author of Your Child’s Growing Mind.

The Toys of Value guide lists specific toys, both "good" and "bad", and offers some general tips for choosing and avoiding children's toys. The 8-page report has some great suggestions and insights, and I encourage you to read it, but since I know some of you won't, I'll list some of the DOs and DON'Ts here:

Choose toys that promote:

photo by Anissa ThompsonDramatic play
Helps children work out their own ideas about their experiences. Provides a powerful way of learning new skills and a sense of mastery. Blocks are a classic toy that children never outgrow. Adding props encourages, inspires, and extends children's play. Props have the ability to help children recreate real life experiences as well as invent imaginary ones.

Manipulative play with small play objects
Develops small muscle control and eye-hand coordination. Teaches about relationships between objects, essential for understanding math and science. Examples: construction sets and toys with interlocking pieces (Lego, Lincoln Logs), puzzles, pegboards, miniature models, parquetry blocks.

Creative arts
Encourages self-expression and the use of symbols, a vital skill for problem solving and literacy. Develops fine motor skills. Examples: poster and finger paints, assortment of blank paper of all sizes and colors, crayons and markers, scissors, glue, recycled materials, stamps, clay, weaving kits.

Physical play
Promotes healthy body awareness and coordination. Provides opportunities for social interaction. Ideas for toy swaps: bikes, scooters and other wheeled toys, climbing structures.

Game playing
Teaches about taking turns, planning strategy, sequencing, rules, and cooperation. Examples: board games like checkers and chess, card games, jacks.

Try to avoid toys that:

Exploit parents' desire to be "good parents."
Take advantage of parents by promising to make kids smart by teaching the alphabet or numbers at too young an age. These toys undermine the development of appropriate play.

Turn TV into the controller of play
Toys that plug into TV sets so children interact with the TV screen, turn playtime into “screen time.” Frenzied pace and programmed actions can increase children’s expectation for elaborate bells and whistles and make children observers rather than participants in their own play.

Lure infants and toddlers into the electronic media culture
These toys control and limit play and creativity and get children used to being entertained. Very young children learn best by interacting with people and seeing their effect on real things. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends no screen time before age 2.

Make appearance, makeup and sexiness the focus of play
Channel girls into very narrow play scripts where how you look—including being thin and wearing make-up and skimpy clothes—and what you can buy is what matters most. Focus on highly sexy appearance and behavior confuses children.

Heighten gender divisions between boys and girls
Dictate that specific toys and interests are only for boys or only for girls. Encourage rigid gender divisions and stereotyped play. Lead to choosing toys based on gender, not play value of a toy.

Make violent themes the focus of play
Often linked to TV programs, movies, and video games, these toys make violence seem entertaining and fun. Channel children into imitating violent TV scripts and anti-social play that undermines positive lessons caring adults try to teach.

Link non-nutritious food to toys and play
Create an easy market for unhealthy, brand-named foods and their logos and early brand loyalty. Products like these undermine healthy eating and contribute to obesity and eating disorders.

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  1. Great post again. The line I refuse to cross is buying books that have accompanying CDs (or accompanying toys as in the case of T.J. Bearytales) so someone else can read to my child. I figure that is the very least I can do for him.

  2. Fabulous post! For the most part, I stuck to all those principles as much as possible with my kids. And as they got older, they've been exposed to more things. Some people think I'm behind but I'm not worried that my kids won't be able to use a computer if they're not using one at age 2. I work with computers for a living and never touched one until I was 17. I also insisted on commercial free tv until they were older. And now my oldest can look at a commercial and take it apart and recognize it for what it is, instead of seeing it as the "truth". You're definitely on a good path with your post, although I'm biased;)

  3. tina > I agree! Plus, T.J. Bearytales is pretty creepy, if you ask me! lol Also past my tolerance level: those books with the strips on the side that make sound effects when you press the buttons.

    lisa > great that you could stick to that! Here's hoping I can do the same. :)

  4. There are far too many products and toys (even so called educational ones) that are specifically aimed at making the parents feel guilty by putting their children at a disadvantage for not buying them or that the children will some how suffer intellectually if a certain item or product is not purchsed, the goverment should make these companies liable for the claims they make, if you buy their computer and your child does not become a sumpreme court judge you should be able to sue, that would stop them, if other companies were allowed to get away with things like this what would we see, if you do not buy a home in Polaris World you will never find hapiness, if you do not use a certain fuel your vehicle will explode, most companies are kept in check the ones that target childrens educational products should be too, make them show undisputed proof not a testimony from DR. Biggles in outer Mongolia who tested it on two people.

  5. Excellent post. For more information visit my website: Educational toys