Child Development

I wrote this for the Franklin Goose newsletter and wanted to share. I thought there was some valueable info especially because Christmas is quickly approaching and so are the holiday deals. Unfortunately, most stores boast their electronic toys and make them the latest craze. As parents we need to take several things in to consideration before shopping this year.

Researchers have an ongoing debate about electronic toys not being as educational as they are claiming to be. The argument is that electronic toys don’t allow a child to think outside of the box, they limit their imaginations, and promote short attention spans. (Van Hoorn, Nourot, Scales, & Alward, 2003) Electronics have a single goal which is just to reach the end (of the game or cycle) and they serve no other purpose. Like blocks can be used to stack, to build a city, build a robot, make words or number sequences, dolls can use them for chairs, they can become a car, or other countless possibilities. A talking dog is just a talking dog. It goes through its talking cycle and has no other purpose. This limits the child’s imagination to only the toy or game. They might hear the alphabet from the dog, but they aren’t making other critical connections that hands-on learning provide.

Researchers are still trying to figure out what electronic toys are doing to children neurologically. 85% of a child’s brain connections are made in the first years. (Institute of Learning and Brain Sciences) Stimulation to these connectors is crucial to the foundation for all later intellectual development and researchers aren’t sure if electronic toys are doing the trick. Linda Crowe, an associate professor from the School of Family Studies and Human Services at Kansas State University said, “What’s happening neurologically with these kids when they are watching flashing lights and electronic toys versus an old-fashioned play toy? Which areas of the brain are activated and what kinds of neurological connections are being established? I’m seeing outcomes in the form of shorter attention spans, but we don’t know exactly what is happening in the brain.”

Top researchers (University of Stirling in Scotland, Lydia Plowman, Temple University’s Infant Laboratory, and the Erikson Institute in Chicago) looked at the most popular electronic “educational” brands and found that none of them showed any obvious benefits to children. Majority of the toys didn’t follow any educational curriculum to back up their claims. Last year’s recall of Baby Einstein is just an example of the false advertising. Yes, the products can be fun and entertaining, but there is no proven educational value.

Electronic toys bring on the expectations of children that you can make things happen with a push of a button. So children get used to being pleased immediately instead figuring it out on their own. Not to mention, most of the toys tell your child what to do instead of letting them think independently. A 2001 study published in Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood noted, however, “When children become used to toys that channel them into acting in a certain way, they begin to expect all toys to tell them what to do and toys that are open-ended can seem boring and uninteresting. This can have a long-term effect on how children play and the kind of learners they become.” (Levin and Rosenquest)

I’m not saying to trash all of your electronic toys by any means (if you do, please recycle). But take this information into consideration before making an expensive electronic toy purchase this year if your goal is to help your child develop mentally. The majority of electronic toys are made out of plastic which can contain BPA, phthalates, cadmium, lead, PVC, mercury, toxic paints, and other harmful chemicals. So not only are they not mentally stimulating your child the way you had hoped, they can be bad for their health.

The Associated Press reported that approximately $20.9 billion dollars was spent on toys in 2005. So think about how much of those “toxic” toys (and their batteries) ended up in landfills polluting the air, soil, and water. This is why it is important to purchase toys that are built to last.

Montessori, Waldorf, and High-Scope Curriculum’s all recommend wooden toys that allow a child to use their imagination and think freely. High quality wooden toys can be passed down for generations. So you get what you pay for. Franklin Goose only carries quality natural wood that haven’t been treated with any formaldehyde, toxic finishes, glues, or toxic paint. They have a superior collection from amazing companies like PlanToys, Smart Gear, ImagiPLAY, Little Sapling, Uncle Goose, and more!

I personally like to follow the High-Scope curriculum with Ella. The educational curriculum was based upon Jean Piaget, a renowned Swiss developmental biologist. Piaget believed that children develop through a cycle. Basically he says a child performs an action which has an effect on or organizes the object. Then the child tests this outcome in different ways by repeated action and variations- including testing with different objects. After the child learns the cause and effects, he/she is able to use that new knowledge and apply it to other areas in their life. Piaget called these stages: objectification, reflection, and abstraction. The more a child experiences, the more brain connections are established.

The High-Scope Curriculum is based upon the belief that children learn best through active learning, direct contact, hands on experiences with people, objects, events and ideas. The High-Scope curriculum includes: Art, Blocks, House/Social Time, Quiet Time, Music and Movement, Construction/Woodworking, Sand/Water Play, Science/Math/Nature, and Language.

Montessori educational practice helps children develop creativity, problem solving, critical thinking and time-management skills, to contribute to society and the environment, and to become fulfilled persons in their particular time and place on Earth. A Montessori teacher avoids plastic and there are no “kits” or “sets” but rather a good supply of beautiful and real materials that the child uses to carry out real work. And although in the first school in Rome there were dolls and imaginative toys, it was discovered early on that, given the choice, children always prefer to learn about and to study and interact with the real world in all its glory. (Montessori Education)

Waldorf is a humanistic approach to learning. Rudolph Steiner, the founder, believed that learning is interdisciplinary, integrating practical, artistic, and conceptual elements. His approach emphasizes a child’s imagination that allows the child to think creatively and analytically.


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