By Hank Pellissier
"Santa Claus will be here soon!" our two girls keep chirping. "Under the Christmas tree, we want to see toys. Toys. TOYS!"
My wife and I are resigned to spending a sleigh-full of money on gifts, even if they logged a year that was sometimes naughtier than nice. We will purchase toys. But this year — we’ve firmly resolved — we're not buying "stupid junk" that decays their developing brains. Instead, we'll shrewdly get them educational toys. Our children will be happily playing and secretly learning. Basically, we’ll trick them. Ho ho ho!
But what are learning toys, anyway? Most parents are frightfully uncertain of the definition — and easy prey for every smarmy sales pitch and promissory “Einstein” label.
Learning toy “rules”
"All toys are learning toys," writes Kathy Hirsch-Pasek. The Temple University professor has written several books on the topic, such as Play = Learning.
"…but,” she continues, “the toys that work best”:
• are 90 percent child and 10 percent toy
• can be used in multiple ways — again and again
• inspire creativity and imagination
• can be used with others
Hirsh-Pasek's first contention — the 90/10 rule — is that toys should be "platforms for learning rather than directing children." She favors toys that let children take the lead. This is backed by a January 2011 study in Cognition where researchers found that children discover more about a toy when they get less instruction from adults. A young human's creativity, inventiveness, and urge to discover are best enhanced if they are permitted to investigate a toy without suffocating guidance from hovering adults who explain complex details from a step-by-step manual.
Her message: Simpler is smarter. High-tech, high-cost gizmos with digital bells-and-whistles aren't necessary to elevate your child's intelligence. Instead, Hirsh-Pasek recommends traditional, vintage toys for Santa's list, such as rubber balls, clay, crayons, art supplies, building blocks, and other construction toys that enlist children's imaginations and small-motor skills to build castles, forts, and playhouses.
Basics are best
At Stanford University’s Bing Nursery School, a research laboratory for child development psychologists, Director Jeanne W. Lepper has a list of materials that help young children learn, including paper, pencils, crayons, scissors, glue, tape, cardboard boxes, easel paints, water colors, sand, play dough, building blocks, Legos, puzzles, dress-up clothes, hats, props, dolls, doll clothes, and simple musical instruments.
Wow. Mighty old-fashioned, isn't it? Pretty much every gift on that list — except Legos — is something that little Laura Ingalls might have played with in Little House on the Prairie. Sure, her doll might’ve been made of corn husks, but the point is that researchers’ 21st-century toy lists don’t include Spy Kids DVDs, Call of Duty video games, Taylor Swift CDs, remote control helicopters, or anything posted at babygenius.com.
Sign up for our newsletter and we'll send you more
insights to help you help your child succeed.
Thank you! You will begin to receive newsletters from us shortly.
Thanks for verifying your updated email address.
Oops! That email verification link has expired. Please click the button below to receive a new one.
Create an account to submit your answers.
Sign in with an existing GreatSchools account or using Facebook:
Your review has been posted to GreatSchools.
Share with friends! Post your opinion of on Facebook.
Welcome to GreatSchools!
Thank you for registering as a school leader. We just need to verify your email address. We've sent you an email - please click on the link in that message to get started editing your school's information!
Thanks! We just sent you an email – please click on the link in the email to post your answers.
Get timely updates for , including performance data and recently posted user reviews.