by Claire McCarthy, MD, Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publications, 13 December 2016
Every holiday season, parents are inundated with ads for toys that will make their child happier, smarter and more successful. They usually involve the latest technology, make noises or are unique in some other way — and are often expensive. Or, they are spin-offs from the latest movie or the latest edition of a popular video game.
As a pediatrician, the ads make me sad — because they are rarely for toys that actually help children be happier, smarter, or more successful. Based on what we know about child health and development, here are the three kinds of toys I wish all parents would give their children.
Toys that require imagination — and that can be used in lots of different ways. The toy should be what gets things started; the rest should be up to the child. Children need to learn to think things through, come up with ideas, and be creative. In the days of video games and Lego sets that are meant to make only one thing, this is getting lost — and it can have all sorts of implications for how children learn and think.
Here are some examples of toys that spur creativity and imagination:
- blocks (plain wooden ones are great), or building sets that can build lots of different things
- materials for writing, drawing, and painting — with lots of blank paper. You can buy blank books or blank comic books instead of pads of paper for older children.
- dollhouses — the simpler the better — with people to go inside them (for both girls and boys).
- cars, boats, airplanes—simple, non-electronic ones. If you buy tracks, buy ones that can be rearranged. Consider getting a playmat of a town that the cars can drive around.
- a play kitchen (add an apron and chef’s hat)
- Dress up clothes — simple things, like capes, robes, wizard’s hats, cowboy hats
If your first reaction is that your child would be bored by these, then all the more reason to buy them. As odd as it sounds, children need to be bored, because boredom breeds creativity. If they are constantly entertained, they will never learn to entertain themselves — and they will miss out on important opportunities to create and explore.
Toys that encourage interaction — especially with their parents and caregivers...