Are those blinking, battery-operated toys that promise to turn your kid into a genius truly better than other playthings? A top developmental expert weighs in.
The deal with tech toys: Today’s electronic wonders can teach basic facts, like letters and numbers. "But a lot of them don’t spur creativity," notes Lisa Nalven, M.D., director of developmental pediatrics at Kireker Center for Child Development in Ridgewood, New Jersey. "They usually involve just pushing buttons and watching or touching a screen." Basic, "no-tech" toys allow kids to use them in various ways—say, putting together blocks to form a train—and encourage kids to literally think outside the box. Good for their imagination, good for problem solving, good for fun!
The simpler, the better. Toys that experts regularly recommend for babies: blocks, balls, old-fashioned dolls that don’t move or talk, stacking cups and rings, and kitchen pots and pans. "They help with motor skills, problem solving, and creativity," says Dr. Nalven. For toddlers, add puzzles and toys that allow kids to pretend—doll-care items like cribs and bottles, kid-size brooms and shopping carts, or dress-up gear. "Pretend play allows kids to practice language and interpersonal interaction, and refine skills before doing them for ‘real,’" says Dr. Nalven.
The most helpful thing of all for kids: hanging out with you. "Time with adults who talk, sing, and play games is key to healthy development," says Dr. Nalven. Kids learn social skills, like reading emotions and body language, and how to control their emotions—stuff that can’t be taught with toys. Research shows that chatting with people exposes kids to more vocabulary than tech toys or kiddie DVDs can. And hanging with you makes your child feel loved—something more fantastic than any toy in the whole, wide world.