Can toys be educational? “The same can be said of any household object” | Toys

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Right now, I’m in the throes of what I call Festive Anxiety: that special, limited-edition form of anxiety that hits anyone in charge of giving gifts during the holiday season, amplified by the excess of unnecessary toys that are marketed to children. this time of year.

Holiday anxiety hits me hard: not only because of the work involved, but because a recent survey by environmentalist retailer Flora and Fauna suggested that despite spending an average of $ 1 billion on new toys over Christmas, Australians still throw away 26.8 million toys each year.

The remedy often praised is the educational toy, which fulfills a double objective: to entertain the child while reassuring the parents. But do children really need “educational toys”, and do these toys really do what they say they will?

Not necessarily, says pediatric psychologist Deirdre Brandner, who believes toy makers can play on the vulnerability of parents who “overanalyze every decision” in an attempt to give children the best possible opportunities.

“While many [manufacturers] producing items that are a fantastic opportunity for positive engagement and learning, the same can be said for any household item, ”she says. “A variety of experiences, toys, interactions with children, and parental involvement in a child’s play have much better learning outcomes. “

She says there has been no valid or sustained research that suggests that particular toys can improve learning outcomes, and advises parents to reconsider the implementation of play “with the expectation that ‘this is a specific result’.

“Playing with toys is a child’s first chance to explore and interact with the world at will,” she explains. “It is the experience of play that produces learning outcomes, toys are only the means by which children discover, engage, create and solve problems. “

Brandner cautions against attaching too many rules to the game, which is part of a child’s natural cognitive, social, and emotional development. She says the only rules of the game should be those that protect them and allow positive interactions with their peers, allowing them to develop skills such as decision-making, contextualization, taking turns and managing wins and losses. defeats.

“Play is a process and open play will allow the child to have autonomy over the outcome,” she says. “Children need to play for fun, otherwise it’s not play, it’s work. “

Parents could take comfort in knowing that play can also be the “foundation for all further learning, including academic success,” according to Dr. Siobhan Kennedy-Costantini, a child development scientist who operates Scientific mind to help parents better understand their child’s cognitive and social development. She says that while they may be related, play and learning don’t have to be mutually exclusive, with academic activities replacing play (or vice versa).

“Play supports all types of learning,” she explains. “Physical play, for example, helps develop our vestibular system, which helps us control our bodies. A well-developed vestibular system is essential for school readiness. She says that “the time or experience of learning to move or control their body by jumping on trampolines or swinging on monkey bars” is very helpful.

Without this type of physical development, she says, children may find it difficult to perform complex tasks in class, such as activating their core to sit upright at a desk while performing fine motor skills. writing.

If parents are particularly interested in some sort of tangible item for their child’s play, especially when they are older, then Brandner suggests toys with open-ended results and varying results. She says Lego is a perfect example, because “there has to be a balance between creating your own ideas using Lego and following building instructions.”

Kennedy-Costantini says it’s important to remember that humans have evolved over thousands of years through playful behavior, and encouraging a child’s play helps them make sense of their world.

“The game is not frivolous,” she explains. “As they play, children test and refine theories, make connections, understand relationships and discover how the world works.”

Jayne Pavic, who founded the Monti and Me toy store to help adults understand the purpose of play after becoming a mother herself, agrees, saying “you can’t play without learning.”

I think we need to redefine for adults what learning and play is like, ”she says. “If adults reframe everyday moments as experiences of brain development – which they are – the focus on specific toy outcomes becomes less relevant. “

Despite selling toys, she insists that “children can play longer and happier with fewer toys”.

Brandner says investing in your child’s play through your time and attention can be a profound way to understand how beneficial play can be, just for the sake of playing.

“A child’s life will be filled with many opportunities for education and learning,” she says. “Let’s not derail their enjoyment of the game by putting constraints on it.”


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