When we buy a toy for our child we need to ask ourselves, what do we want our child to achieve with it, how do we want this toy to help our child? Children learn through play, and the toys we buy have a huge impact on this. Are we happy if our child is just entertained by the toy? Do we want him to learn colours or shapes? Do we want to encourage his communication? Do we want to provide a relaxing space for him to express his ideas in his own way? Do we want to expand his curiosity and imagination?
There are two different types of toys: ENTERTAINING TOYS and EDUCATIONAL FUN RESOURCES and, by the name of it, you can guess the differences. The first type of toys is usually the electronic toys, the ones that literally just have the purpose of entertaining the child. He presses a button and the toy does something. An action from the child triggers a reaction from the toy, and it’s always the exact same action that triggers the exact same reaction. No other way, which means there is no space for creativity and imagination.
The second type of toys are the traditional toys, the ones that are powered by IMAGINATION. This group includes everything that doesn’t have batteries or, even if it does, it still requires the child’s imagination in order to have a function or a purpose. Blocks are a great example of traditional or open-ended toys. A block is just a piece of wood or plastic, whatever it is made of. That’s it. But when put together they can become a castle, a boat, a house, a farm, a plane… And this will awaken the child’s imagination and he will start adding more items into it to create his own little world, where he can express himself based on his own experiences, emotions and thoughts.
There are many studies that show how traditional toys are much more beneficial for your child than electronic toys. It doesn’t mean your child should never touch an electronic toy, it just means you need to find the balance for both and the right time for each. Electronic toys are easier to use for your child because all he needs to do is press a button. The toy will do everything for him. He doesn’t need to do or say what he wants the toy to do or say. It just does it. But while he has this experience, he is not using the creative side of the brain, making connections, developing communication or social skills. He is just pressing a button and waiting for a sound or move from the toy.
On the other side, if we encourage the use of open-ended toys on our kids, they will become much more independent, creative, aware, focused and skilled. When they play with traditional toys they create conversations, little worlds, they practice many skills like problem-solving, movement or fine motor skills. There is spontaneous interaction between you, the child and other children, which leads to the development of social skills including empathy and respect.
Remember, time spent with electronic toys isn’t time wasted, but it is time taken away from the possibility of being creative and expanding many life basic skills that will make your child more independent and confident.