Play and children
Children learn from the time they are born and parents or guardians are primarily responsible for providing quality experiences from which their children learn. Play is essential for learning in children. Parents often want to know about appropriate toys, books, and computer or video games, because they know that these tools may be important in their child's development.
Toys bring parents and children together in play. Early brain development is enhanced through these relationships. It is important for parents to understand the role of play in all areas of development, including cognitive, language, social, physical, and emotional development. Although toys should never be used as a substitute for loving, unconditional attention from parents and other caregivers, toys enhance these interactions. When adults participate in the play of children, learning is enhanced. A child's self-esteem and level of mastery are also enhanced when adults participate in play. Parents are able to observe the skills their child currently has and also help expand those skills.
All children benefit from toys that promote safe physical activity. But some toys pose emotional or social risks. Graphic depictions of violence presented in an interactive way, such as in some computer or video games, can lead to acts of violence by the child. Although video games are rated, even those deemed for 'everyone' may contain significant violence. Toy weapons or other toys that promote violence should be discouraged. Parents should also consider whether a toy promotes any negative racial, cultural, or gender stereotypes. The toys parents provide (or do not provide) send children a message about what is valued.
Some toy marketing includes claims that specific toys will facilitate specific developmental milestones. There is no scientific evidence to suggest that any toy is necessary or sufficient for optimal learning. These advertisements can promote misinformation, inappropriate expectations, and unnecessary expenditures. It could lead to parents feeling guilty when they cannot afford or choose not to make such purchases. Just because a product is in the market does not mean it is safe. In determining toy safety, the characteristics of the toy should be considered as well as how the toy might be used or abused and the amount of supervision or help needed for safe play. It is important for parents to be familiar about toy safety and guidelines on toy selection.
Guidelines for parents and caregivers
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- Most educational toys are those that encourage the interaction of an adult with a child in supportive, unconditional play. Toys should never be considered as substitutes for the attention of parents.
- Children should be provided with safe, affordable toys that are developmentally appropriate. Include toys that help promote learning and growth in all areas of development and encourage creativity.
- Those toys should be avoided that discourage children from using their imaginations. Social, emotional and cognitive skills are developed and enhanced when children use play to work out real-life problems.
- It is important to make a thoughtful selection of toys and remember that a good toy does not have to be trendy or expensive.
- Use books and magazines to play and read together.
- Be skeptical of educational or developmental claims made by advertisers, especially claims of intellectual enhancement through certain toys.
- There are some toys that promote violence or negative social, racial, or gender stereotypes. These toys are not recommended for children.
- It is good to limit video and computer games. The total screen time, including television and computer use, should be less than 1 to 2 hours per day. Children younger than 5 years should play with computer or video games only if they are developmentally appropriate, and a parent or caregiver should accompany the child.
- Toys should be safe made of nontoxic material. They should not have sharp edges. Small toys or toys which can easily dismantle into parts should not be given to infants or toddlers as they may take it to their mouth. Also, toys should be stored safely.