Similar questions have likely been asked in every parenting group or online forum, especially in the past few weeks: What tablet should we get our child for Christmas? What tablet is the best? And what apps should we download or games would you recommend?
But hold on, says a report from the American Academy of Pediatrics. “Ignore the flashing screens,” the AAP titled a statement that the group released. Step away from the tablets and gadgets debate, because simple toys are the best toys, especially when it comes to children ages 5 and younger.
"Toys have evolved over the years, and advertisements may leave parents with the impression that toys with a 'virtual' or digital-based platform are more educational," said Dr. Aleeya Healey, a lead author of the report. "Research tells us that the best toys need not be flashy or expensive or come with an app. Simple, in this case, really is better."
The AAP went on to recommend that total screen time, including TV and computer use, should be less than one hour per day for children ages 2 and older -- and avoided altogether in those younger than 18-24 months.
So, what should you buy instead, if you’re a parent and you’re scratching your head over the news? It is the holiday season, after all.
Experts said to gravitate toward books, puzzles, blocks, art-related toys or supplies, or anything that you and your child can use to pretend. Items that promote language and real-life situations and events are key. Physical toys are recommended, as well, such as tricycles and balls.
HealthyKids.org put together a webpage breaking down the AAP report and doling out advice on what to look for in an ideal toy.
"The more we know about early brain development, the more we understand the need for play that is based on human interaction," Dr. Healey said. "There is no screen, video game or app that can replace the relationships built over toys."
Toys used to be considered insignificant playthings, the AAP report reminds readers. Now, experts say, toys are critical facilitators of early brain and child development. Caregivers have an important role in making the appropriate choices for kids.
And remember, just because the holidays are quickly approaching doesn’t mean you have to go all out, as a parent. Less is more, especially when it comes to toys. Or if you feel as if you have the basic ones already, consider the everyday items that might seem fun to your children. A stack of measuring cups, for example, might sound boring to you, but for your toddler, there are balancing and stacking games in his or her future.
Is there a “back to the basics” toy that’s been a hit in your house? Let us know in the comments.