As a therapist for families for many years, I have heard repeatedly, “I bought this toy for my child and they don’t play with it” or “I have so many toys already and don’t know what to keep” or the one we get the most, “What toys should I buy for my baby/toddler to help with their development?”. Now the answer to each of these questions it pretty easy, but it is sometimes difficult to process.

The simpler the toy, the longer they will play with it. Period. That is in relation to each time they engage with the toy as well as the amount of years (yes, not days or weeks or months) they will continue to use it.

Many therapists will be hard pressed to suggest a GREAT electronic toy that 1) is truly age appropriate 2) is multi functional (ex. encourages more than one developmental area at a time 3) encourages problem solving 4) fosters creativity. These should really be the questions you ask yourself when purchasing a toy for a little one.

Ask your self, is it a CAMP toy… Creative, Age Appropriate, Multifunctional, Problem solving

Think about it like when you or an older child goes CAMPing. Electronics are minimal at best and we use our brains and bodies to learn about and engage with the world around us. That is not to say there is no value in electronic toys or apps on a tablet. It just should not be the primary toy your child plays with.

Again, I don’t want anyone to think that I am promoting NO ELECTRONICS for children; however for a developing toddler, electronic toys should be limited. As children get older and should be learning foundational skills for school readiness, there is a definite benefit for electronics/apps .

I will also not fool you, my children had plenty of electronic toys when they were babies and toddlers, but I am writing this being brutally honest and sincere with the experiences hundreds of families including my own have been through.

I also am not saying your playroom or child’s play area needs to be filled with high end wooden toys or a strictly “Montessori” model of learning, but consider again the overall value of these types of toys and experiences they provide your child.

So, for toys that have batteries, but the sounds are “extra” I often suggest taking the batteries out (or never putting them in). Many of the doll houses, garages, farms etc all seem to have environmental sounds added to them these days. I would much rather see the child create their own sounds of the potty flushing or the cow going to bed. This should also be modeled by their play partner (sibling/caregiver) and eventually imitated by the child.

If the toy does nothing with the batteries out, I would pass on it. It is not multi-functional and your child will tire of it quickly. For example a light up, colorful buttoned toy piano that says a letter of the alphabet when you press on its keys. With the batteries out, its no fun. Additionally, push button toys with lights and sounds tend to be mostly enjoyed by children ages 9-15 months, learning letters of the alphabet at this stage is not age appropriate.

Lets look at practicality, teaching a child the word “eat” to a 12-15 month old during play.

Tablet Play: open an app that involves dragging pieces of preselected animated food and dropping it into a monsters mouth. (This is entertaining of course. But there is no real life learning going on. Perhaps the game says the name of the foods or the monster says YUM or EWWW, well that is good, but still very one dimensional)

Now lets teach the word “eat” during play with a child and some very simple basic toys…

Blowing Bubbles: each time you pop a bubble pull your hand to your mouth and model “EAT” paired with a silly yummy or yucky sound REPEAT

Balls: pretend to eat one, then be silly and say brrrr cold or ooooo hot throwing it for your child to retrieve REPEAT

Baby Doll: model the baby crying, model “eat”, feed the baby a bottle or small pieces of plastic food and have baby burp REPEAT

Farm Animals: have the animals move quickly or slowly to “eat” pretend food from a small dish then put them to bed under a towel REPEAT

Nesting Cups: pretend to “eat” out of them and model “mmmmm” or “yuck” before stacking each one into a tower, knock down all the cups REPEAT

Fingerplays: sing the Raffi song “I Like to Eat Eat Eat Apples and Bananas” leaving a blank for your child to fill in and modeling the signs for “eat”, “apple” and “banana” REPEAT

Now this was just a quick list of activities with simple items that most families have in their arsenal of toys. But which sound more fun? Which sound more engaging? Which sound more interactive? Which would you want a babysitter doing with your child?

Play is a child’s work. It is their platform to create their personality, creativity and demeanor. We should give them the tools (toys) which help to foster that work to the best of their ability.

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