Doing something new is generally assumed to be an improvement on what went before, simply because 'new' represents 'progress'. Parents are constantly looking for the best ways of doing things with their children, and so lean towards the new in the hope that it will also be better. As technology is synonymous with progress, we find it creeping into all aspects of parenting and interaction with children, even playtime. We've all seen young children playing with iPads, smart phones and tablets whilst their parents do other things.
I'm not a fan of using technology to entertain children. For child's play, newness and technology don't necessarily represent progress or improvement. A child playing alone with a smart device is functioning almost entirely in a virtual world with limited real social interaction. They aren't sharing their experiences or learning from others. Reliance on technology at playtime also reduces the amount of interaction between parent and child, which can have a negative effect on both. A recent report by Galt Toys showed that more than 65% of parents doubt their ability at playing with their children. Many lack confidence and some have forgotten how to play altogether, which is sad and unnecessary. The same research also found that half of parents felt envious or inadequate when watching other parents playing well with their children. The more parents rely on technology to fill the role of playmate for their child, the more they remove themselves from the art of playing and erode their own confidence.
I can't overemphasise the importance of play. A parent is a child's first playmate and first teacher. From birth, children learn through play and the close interaction they have with those around them. For a baby play is work. It is vital for developing really important physical, intellectual, manual, language and social skills. In fact, when a baby plays, it grows half a million brain connections every second. I am a firm believer that traditional, interactive toys provide more opportunities for parents to develop skills in their children than electronic gadgets do.
Traditional favourites like puzzles might seem old fashioned next to the latest electrical toy, but they actually teach shape recognition and placement which are precursors to handwriting skills. They also develop vital manual dexterity, hand-eye coordination, recognition and memory skills and a sense of achievement when completed. Simple shape sorters that have been around for generations teach children cause and effect, colours, shapes, memory and fine motor skills. The finger skills learnt from playing with this sort of toy will come in useful for learning to play musical instruments later in life so play really does provide the building blocks to becoming the successful adults we all want our children to be.
Galt's research also found that children preferred playing interactively with their parents, to playing alone or watching DVDs, which shows that children are perfectly happy to play with 'normal' toys and don't need the newest technology to thrive. Playing is fun, and it is easy. Just get down on the floor, at eye level with your child, explain what is happening with the toys, demonstrate how things work and provide a running commentary. And for those looking for extra confidence, my new toy range with Galt Toys includes play guides to give a little helping hand.
Watch my educational toy master-class here