Recently I have been challenged to think about the role technology plays in children’s toys, specifically for the baby and toddler set.
I raised three boys in the video/computer age and saw how captivating these venues are to kids and the opportunity they can provide for learning as well as entertainment. Each boy had a different level of interest in “screens” and my middle son in his 20’s would still stand in line for the latest gaming system.
But what about the offerings for babies and toddlers? Toys that a child manipulates to change the information on the TV screen? These toys have been popular for preschoolers and older–like the Smart Cycle by Fisher Price for 3 years and up where a child riding a bike interacts with information on the screen–but what about the industry’s offerings for our littlest ones?
Recently, I found two articles that are informative on this subject and reflect my stance on the issue. In an article on the Parents’ Choice website, “Toddlers and ‘Interactive TV’- Are Video-Based Toys Good for Your Child?” Assistant Professor, Ann Orr, Ed.D, /assistant Professor, Eastern Michigan University, cites a series of research that shows that 2 year-olds learn concepts more readily from human interaction than video screens.
Researchers have found that young children learn language from hearing it spoken from a human in their everyday experiences rather than a TV screen. Just because older children learn through this venue doesn’t mean we can use the same concept, bring down the educational level of the video program and expect babies and toddlers to learn.
On Kidstoyclub.com, there is an article on Educational Toys Versus Edutainment Toys” explaining the difference between “open-ended toys” like blocks where play themes are unlimited versus “closed-ended toys.” “A closed-ended edutainment toy, on the other hand, may only require a child to press a few buttons. Eventually, it leads to a dead end and the child grows bored and tosses the toy aside.” The article ends with the point that edutainment toys “can foster an acceptance of a disposable consumer culture.” After playing the educational video game several times, kids master the game or get bored with the material and want the next level or next game. The lifespan of such a toy is short compared with a lump of play-doh or a box of legos.
Technology is here to stay and toy manufacturers are scrambling to find the right mix for each age group to entertain and teach children in an effective way. As parents, we need to be discerning and evaluate what we are offering our children.