Before you know it, the ripping and tearing of the holiday gift wrap is just a memory. Your children are sitting amidst a pile of “assembly required” and “batteries not included” toys, games and gadgets. They slide into their own world of video and game screens, and you are alone with the memories of the toys of your youth. You wonder where did the joy of the simple toys and games go?
Wonder no longer! The Toy Hall of Fame (http://www.toyhalloffame.org) is a website where you can indulge in the comfort of your own favorite toys – before they got complicated! More on that in a bit.
First, let’s talk about why it’s good to give your children toys with which they truly can play. Remember your Raggedy Ann doll? How about your Erector Set? Junior Scientist Kit? And the dangerous but delightful wood-burning tool? All of those came with no instructions necessary.
Your imagination and creativity were the keys to your enjoyment. You did problem-solving with these toys, you explored your emotions, you set the rules. It was not the other way around. Your child may have received a Lego set that has very specific, do-it-this-way-or-you-won’t-get-the-picture-on-the-box instruction. This kind of directed play is constricting and does not allow a child to grow.
Play is the way that children learn, the way they explore their environment, the way they learn that there is not always just one option for success. Do you remember climbing a tree and being faced with the moment when you realized that it is MUCH easier to go up than go down? Do you remember taking empty cardboard boxes and a bunch of crayons and markers and building a city? This kind of play leads children to school success. The most famous scientists were day-dreamers. The most illustrious authors were not limited by someone else’s imagination.
The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that children under the age of 2 have zero screen time – no television, no computer games, no DVDs. They suggest only moderate use after that age. Why? Because children do not interact with screens. They watch them. Even when they can manipulate outcomes in a game, they are only doing input, not true interaction. Of course a parent has to judge what is moderate in the child’s life, so you have to really think about what else the child could be doing in that time they are plugged in. It’s difficult for most families to get to zero screen time, so be reasonable in your expectations.
Back to the Toy Hall of Fame. Every year they induct new toys. This year they welcomed Playing Cards and The Game of Life into the Hall. Previous inductees include Ball, Baby Doll, Stick, Cardboard Box, Hula Hoop, SCRABBLE, and Alphabet Blocks. You can check out the entire list at http://www.toyhalloffame.org/toys/year. Talk to your children about your own favorite toy, ask what toy they would add to next year’s list. Me? My favorite toy is Sock Monkey. A good, old-fashioned, hand-sewn sock monkey, like Ernie (pictured in this article).
Play is essential for healthy child development. If you stifle play and if you plug your child into video screens, you are doing them a disservice. Introduce your children to the toys and games of your youth, help them slow it down a bit, play a lot, and while you are at it, get down there on the floor and join them!