Bringing Back Old-Fashioned Toys

The scene is all too familiar. Toys are scattered around the room—the noise of blinking toys, buzzing toys, talking toys—all lit by the glow of the television and smartphones in hand. While this may be jarring for adults, children have become accustomed to the over-stimulating environment created by today’s technology. It’s a far cry from our childhood and even further from the generation before. Of course we want to embrace the advances in technology. No one wants to get left behind in the digital age. However, we also want what is best for our children. Daily, we ask ourselves a hundred questions about their well being. Are we raising fair and honest kids? Should we buy them that new bike or make them earn it? Are we spending enough time with them? Should they be eating only organic food? Are they learning how to be kind and decent? But one of the biggest questions these days is: Should I limit screen time?

Combating Screen Time

Children in today’s modern world are inundated with electronics. From television to tablets, learning and entertainment has been reduced to high definition touch screens in many cases. While these devices can be helpful to keep a restless child entertained while you check things off your To Do list, there are some concerns.

“The fast moving shows and games are likely over stimulating to the developing mind. The violence, language, and sexuality are always concerning. However, I get just as worried about the unrealistic story lines and extreme personalities of even some of today’s more young child-friendly cartoons,” says Dr. Stephen Sanches, a pediatrician at The Pediatric Clinic. Dr. Sanches recommends no more than one hour of screen time a day for children over two during the week with a little more flexibility on the weekends. And for children under two, he advises parents to skip screen time as much as possible.

With your little one’s attention glued to the screen, they are ignoring the world around them. There is no social interaction, no problem solving, no conversation. So, what can we do to combat this? The answer is simple…play.

“I consider play to be a form of behavior or activity in which the child engages for the purpose of enjoyment. While the child may experience numerous other gains or losses due to this behavior, the primary purpose is enjoyment,” says Dr. Sanches.

He goes on to say that play is important for children because it allows them to be creative and to use their imaginations. This is one of the main reasons that old-fashioned toys are back in the spotlight. No batteries to buy, no devices to charge, these toys provide a break from the fast-paced world. Games like Jenga, Etch A Sketch, Pik-Up Stiks, and Jacks develop and engage children in a completely different way than an electronic toy.

“There are different types of play which parents can encourage—games that have rules and premises and completely unstructured play or free time. I think a combination of both are important,” says Dr. Sanches. “Sometimes, in today’s structured and media-driven world, it may take the parents letting the child get quite bored in order to let the child’s mind begin to engage [in play].”

Benefits of the Toys

So, what are the benefits of playing with these old school toys? One study, published by JAMA Pediatrics, found that children and parents spoke and responded less when engaged with electronic toys. With the buzzing and whirring and talking of electronic toys, it is more difficult to speak over all the noise. We tend to stay quiet and let the toy do the talking. This means slower language development for children.

Another benefit of these old-fashioned toys is they encourage much more interaction from everyone. Electronic toys, tablets, and television often take a parent’s place. This is not the case with simpler toys. These toys provide opportunities to play with others and for parents to become active participants in their children’s play time. By giving your child toys that you will both enjoy, you are bonding and fostering social skills—things just not possible with digital toys and programs.

However, Dr. Sanches says that not all electronic screen time is equal. “I don’t think all screen time can be lumped into one basket. There are many educational, nature, and history-oriented programs. A parent sitting and going over letters or numbers while watching an educational video or game is less concerning. Using a video chatting software to interact with distant relatives provides less concerns to me than a constant stream of intense action.”

When considering entertainment for your child, a good rule to consider is: your child should bring more to the play time than the toy does. That means, you don’t want a toy or game that gives your child all the answers. You want the toy to give a very basic idea and let the child’s imagination and creativity take it from there.

Imagine a simple wooden truck. With no paint, your child can imagine it to be any color they want. With no driver, they can picture Mom or Dad or even themselves behind the wheel. The simpler the toy, the more varied their options become. With all the bells and whistles absent, your child will be more creative. They can build castles out of blocks, imagining an entire world of stories to go along with it. Dolls and books provide the same kind of stimulation.

The Best Toys by Age

Babies will benefit from simple toys they can bang, drop, stack, open, and close. Nursery mobiles, mirrors, ring stacks, and pull toys all keep baby stimulated and curious. The right kind of toy can encourage self-discovery and even develop their attention span. Plus, it’s just downright cute to see those chubby little hands gripping toys and playing.

Toddlers are learning about their world and trying to understand how everything works. They will start to learn colors and shapes, so bright and colorful toys are a must. Bouncy balls, shape-sorting toys, anything with buttons or levers, kitchen sets, doctor’s kits, and stuffed animals will all benefit your toddler. From hand-eye coordination to aiding in emotional development, these toys play a big role in the growth of your toddler.

Preschoolers are the masters of imagination. Fantasy play will be big during this time and you’ll be demanded to “watch this” more than a few times as they perform a new trick. The best toys to engage preschoolers are arts and crafts, construction sets, puzzles, costumes, and play tools. This is the magical age of pretend, so dive in and help slay that dragon or operate on Mr. Teddy Bear.

Big kids have mastered play and can now focus on developing friends and relationships. They can enjoy simple games like Jacks and Pik-Up Stiks, hopscotch, checkers, musical instruments, and bicycles. Card games and board games develop social skills and teach them strategy, rules, and fair play. Family game nights can be an easy way to keep everyone playing together.

Keep It Simple

The object here is to keep it simple. We’re not saying that there isn’t any benefit to electronic toys and educational games played on a tablet or laptop. However, mixing in simpler toys will give your child a more well-rounded play experience.

In local toy store, Victoria’s Toy Station, you can spot a larger focus on play than technology. From toy kitchen sets to Go Fish card games, it’s refreshing to see that these things are readily available to us on a local level.

Dee-Dee Culotta, the store’s owner says, “Play is so important for childhood. It helps a child’s imagination and allows her to learn more about herself. We really push playing dress-up because it completely takes them away, and that is so important today. As parents, we have to be vigilant because these children are our precious future.”

Next time your child is complaining because they’re bored, or you’re just looking for an activity to keep them entertained, think back to your childhood and the toys that stand out most in your memories. Let the only noise be your child’s “beep, beep” while pushing a car around your floor and the only glow to be in their eyes as they strategize a way to beat you at cards. ■

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06 Apr 2017

By Season Vining

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