Children need to direct their own play rather than have it dictated by an elaborate electroniceducationaltoy.

It’s hard to resist the preschool department in toy stores. There are DVDs that claim to stimulate infant brains, electronic books with sound effects, and plastic farms that make animal noises.

The latest toys promise to use cutting-edge technology and brain research to boost a child’s motor or cognitive skills, says Carl Honoré, author of Under Pressure: Rescuing Childhood from the Pressure of Hyper-Parenting.

But when it comes to toys, less is more. As Honoré says, children "need to direct their own play rather than have it dictated by a toy."

Brain Development and Toy Manufacturers

Neuroscience is at a stage too embryonic to prove how different toys affect the brain, and toy manufacturers send out mixed messages about this, says Honoré.

In his research, he interviewed toy manufacturing representatives who have different views: 

Scott Axcell, a marketing manager for Leaprfrog, who says “While other toys leave children to make their own discoveries about what happens when they interact with them, our spark a learning moment with every touch and turn.”

Kathleen Alfano, director child research at Fisher-Price Company, says: “There is no proof that this type of toy helps children become smarter.”

Honoré is skeptical of the benefits from early exposure to interactive DVDs or high-tech learning centres.

Bill Gates, chairman of Microsoft, says:  “If you’ve ever watched a child with a cardboard carton and a box of crayons create a spaceship with cool control panels, or listened to their improvised rules, such as ‘Red cars can jump all others,’ then you know that this impulse is to make a toy do more is at the heart of innovative play. It is also the essence of creativity.”

Conclusion

Parents now wonder if electronic games are aimed at parents or children. There’s a push and pull: do you buy toys that are fun or good for brain development? And if possible, can you buy a toy that is both fun and good for brain development? 

Here's what Honoré says:

  • Electronic educational toys are not crucial to a child's development.
  • The latest toys are not the key to success.
  • Children are becoming couch potatoes.  They need to spend time outdoors in nature.
  • Children learn effectively when they can direct their own play.