I’m not one to ever tell another parent not to hand their fussing child a phone or tablet. I’m a mom, so I know how helpful they are in a pinch when you have a toddler who’s tired and melting down. But, I’m also well aware of the bad…really bad…effect these devices are having on our kiddos.
It’s not really surprising to most parents that experts say toys are better for young brains than tablets and phones. After all, most of us grew up playing with our pretend kitchens, dolls, and toy cars. We know the importance of play. We know how awesome those “basic” toys were and how much fun we had with them.
What can be surprising for parents, though, is just how much these non-digital educational toys can help a child. A report from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) notes that traditional toys are far more helpful for childhood development than digital-based products and the report makes it clear why. Some of the benefits of educational toys include:
- Expanding creativity and imagination
- Creating more of a bond between parents and children
- Boosting language skills
- Enhancing problem-solving skills
- Promoting physical activity
Sure, it’s fun to buy your kid all the trendy high-tech stuff that’s hitting the shelves. But what he really needs is time with you and a few creative toys that build his brain rather than pollute it.
The Importance of Play in Child Development
When I first started teaching in my preschool classroom, I was sometimes dumbfounded watching some of my students “play”. It’s almost like they didn’t know what to do when I gave them a set of blocks or train tracks. They’d often opt for whatever toy had some sort of noise, flashing lights, or screen. Playing with traditional educational toys just didn’t seem to impress some kids.
That never went away in the four years I taught. I’d spend time all year showing the kids new ways to play with our toys, getting most of them to actually enjoy them and start thinking outside the box a little. Then, my new class would come in and I’d have to start all over with some of them. It amazes me how different things are today.Sure, it's fun to buy your kid all the trendy high-tech stuff that's hitting the shelves. But what he really needs is time with you and a few creative toys that build brainpower. Click To Tweet
I’d usually ask my preschoolers, too: “What do you play with at home?” or “Who do you like to play with at home?” Often, I’d get answers like, “I play on Mom’s phone, “I watch TV,” or “My parents don’t play with me.” Times have changed. Parents are busier than ever. But it’s so important to make time for our children rather than letting a device always do it for you. These are the years they remember, the ones that shape their future.
The AAP notes that traditional toys give parents and kids exactly what they need to develop their bond and offer important interactions that can stick with a child for life. Through interactive play with a parent or caregiver, kids can learn social skills, language skills, problem-solving, self-regulation, and discovery.
Solitary play is just as important. This is where kids can really open up their imagination, find new ways to do things, develop their fine and gross motor skills, and learn how to entertain themselves.Through interactive play with a parent or caregiver, kids can learn social, language, problem-solving, self-regulation, and discovery skills that will stick with them for life. Click To Tweet
We just have to give kids the right tools for the job. There is absolutely nothing wrong with smartphones and tablets when they’re used in healthy ways. That means limiting screentime and using it in conjunction with a healthy diet of active play and educational toys. Getting back to the basics more often with imaginative, creative toys is exactly what our kiddos need.
The Best Educational Toys for Kids
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The importance of play is undeniable. Studies and research continue to prove it time and time again. It’s up to us as parents and caregivers, though, to reasonably limit our kids’ access to devices and start giving them toys that can let them grow in all the right ways. Here are some of the best toys for kids that target development in its earliest, and most important, stages:
Kindergarten Sight Words
This set of wooden sight words helps little ones recognize common words they’ll learn in kindergarten, giving them a jump-start for reading. Help them sound out the letters, clap the syllables, and put together simple sentences.
Farm Animal Finger Puppets
Give your child this set of farm animal finger puppets to create their own songs, puppet shows, or dialogue. These are perfect for building vocabulary, enhancing articulation, and developing social skills.
Melissa & Doug Basic Skills Learning Toy
I used to have this basic skills learning toy in my preschool classroom. Not only was it fun for the kids, but it also helped them develop fine motor skills (finger and hand control) and learn to zip, button, tie, and snap their way to putting on clothes and jackets.
Dado Squares from Fat Brain Toys
I love open-ended toys that boost creativity with a hint of science, which is exactly what these Dado Squares do. Your child can build just about anything with a little imagination and thinking skills.
Color Sorting Doll Set
My mom’s side of the family is 100% Polish, so I know all too well how fun nesting dolls are by themselves. But, add a little color and some pom poms, and you’ve got yourself an even more entertaining toy that teaches color sorting, finger and hand manipulation, patterning, and more. Get it here.
Electronic Snap Circuits
One of the children’s museums in my area has a station filled with snap circuits like this where kids can design circuits to power light switches, motors, and all kinds of other electronic stuff. They’re so fun that even my teenage daughter enjoys figuring out how to make everything work!
Marble Construction Set
Marble construction sets can keep kids busy for hours – and that’s not even an exaggeration. Some of my preschoolers would have gladly spent their whole day in my classroom moving pieces around to see how they could get their marbles moving faster down the chute. These are great for observing and experimenting.
Talking Planetary Mat
If you have a child who’s even remotely into learning about space and the planets, then this interactive mat can boost their knowledge. It includes fun facts about each planet and even lets your child know how much they’d weigh on each of them.
STEM Construction Set
Kids can make just about anything they can dream up with this STEM building set that lets their creativity do the talking.
Brain Games Kids
Brain Games Kids is great for ages 8 and up. This thinking game contains all kinds of fun facts, puzzles, brain benders, and other stuff to get kids really thinking about what they’re learning.
Crayola Color Chemistry Arctic Lab
Your child can experiment with all kinds of frozen colors and materials with this exciting lab set.
Insect Lore Butterfly Garden
Okay, so this isn’t necessarily a toy, but it’s totally something your kid will learn from AND have fun with. This butterfly garden kit gives you everything you need to transform some caterpillars into butterflies right in your home. (It even gives you the caterpillars, so make sure you’ll be able to start right away!). My son and I enjoyed the whole process, from naming our new caterpillar friends to setting our newly-transformed butterflies free.
Garden Building Set
I love educational toys that mimic real life, which is exactly what this flower garden building set does. Your child can make a gorgeous “garden” or wreath filled with pretty flowers and learn about the different parts of a flower.
Melissa & Doug Deluxe Pet Care Playset
Have pets in the home? How about adding this adorable pet care playset that teaches kids how to take care of and love on their animals even more. It’s got everything they need for everyday care and even some special pet first aid.
And, for meaningful screentime…
There’s Osmo! I absolutely LOVE Osmo and honestly believe it’s one of the best gifts my 7-year-old ever got. The funny part is that it all involves a tablet. (Remember when I said screens aren’t always bad? Yeah, that applies here.)
Osmo has a base that you can use with an iPad or Fire tablet. Then, there’s a bunch of different sets you can buy. Everything you do with the set interacts with your tablet screen and every set has some kind of educational element. There’s the Creative Kit, for example, where a monster talks to your child and asks them to draw something to add to his house. It’s so adorable and gives kids the chance to be creative, use their imagination, and build writing skills.
Then there’s Hot Wheels MindRacers, which is definitely my son’s favorite set. This game is all about racing, but it really gets you using your brain, too! You have to quickly decide when and how to use the power-up tokens strategically to beat the other racer, do special moves, or beat the clock.
I personally love Coding with Awbie, a game that teaches math, problem-solving, and coding basics. Every level gets just a bit more challenging, but never enough that it’ll make your child want to quit. It’s seriously so fun that I just keep wanting to play with my son!
Osmo offers everything a parent could want for their kids to make the most out of their screentime.
Getting Kids to Back to Loving Educational Toys
The world would be so much easier without technology sometimes. Then again, technology has made our world so much easier, too. But there’s also a reason that toys were created in the first place, and that’s because they offer so many benefits to little ones. Some toys let us combine technology with education, like the ridiculously seamless way Osmo has. But there’s still so much to be said about some back-to-basics playtime with regular, no-frills-or-screens toys.
The toys I mentioned above are just some of the many, many incredible toys out there. Start filling your child’s shelves with these kinds of things for birthdays and holidays, and you might be surprised by how easy it is to make the switch from screens to hands-on toys.
Do you have an issue with screentime in your home? What are your child’s favorite kinds of non-digital toys to play with? I’d love to hear ALL your thoughts – leave me a comment below!
Amy is a mom of two, freelance writer, and blog manager who works with family-focused businesses to improve their content strategies. You can find her published work on Reader’s Digest Online, MSN, Niche, Frugal For Less, and other lifestyle publications.