By Lauren Glendenning, For Memorial Regional Health

 Research Shows That Age-Appropriate Toys and Restricting Screen Time Can Greatly Impact Child Development

Instead of sticking an electronic screen in front of your children to keep them occupied or entertained, there are countless reasons to choose toys and games that have more meaningful benefits for child development. 

The best toys to buy for children this holiday season are those that match their developmental skills and abilities, and encourage the development of new skills, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. 

Colleen Boyle, a speech-language pathologist at Memorial Regional Health, said to consider how much imagination and language can be encouraged when choosing specific toys as gifts this holiday season. 

“Low-tech, no-tech toys are often best, as it is up to the child and their play partner to make sound effects, and create events and play themes. This encourages social skill development,” she said. “Experiences — museums, shows, the movie theater, dance class, art class, sport teams or sport lessons, climbing gym, horseback riding, swim lessons, etc. — are also always wonderful gifts, as they create memories, are a time for connection and can help build new vocabulary.” 

Some of Boyle’s Favorite Toys to Recommend as Gifts Are:

  • Legos, blocks, Play-Doh, bubbles
  • Anything from the Melissa & Doug brand (especially their various food sets and puzzles)
  • Geometric magnet tiles
  • Anything by Fat Brain Toys
  • Books
    • For infant/toddlers: board books or textured books
    • For kids: books geared to their reading level — just ask your child’s teacher for his or her level!
    • For older children: chapter books
  • Costumes/dress up clothes
  • Crafts supplies
  • Outdoor toys (e.g. sleds, jump ropes, balls)
  • Board games (e.g. Feed the Woozle, Yeti in my Spaghetti, Ants in The Pants)
  • Puzzles
  • Cooking supplies (to be used with adult supervision)

Toys vs. Screens

Research shows that toys can impact cognitive development, language interactions, symbolic and pretend play, problem-solving, social interactions and physical activity. The American Academy of Pediatrics also reports that unstructured and social play with family and friends — without toys — can help young children with important life skills such as impulse control, managing emotions and creative, flexible thinking. (For a list of age-appropriate ideas for playful learning, visit www.healthychildren.org.)

“Research suggests tablet-based toys may actually delay social development for infants and young children, because they don’t include real-life facial expressions, gestures and vocalizations,” according to the academy.

Overuse of digital media can contribute to delays in learning and social skills, obesity, behavior problems and decreased sleep in children. In order to prevent the detrimental effects of too much screen time, parents should develop a media use plan early on.

“Total screen time, including television and computer use, should be less than one hour per day for children 2 years or older and avoided for those younger than 2 years of age,” according to the academy. “Children younger than 5 years should only be allowed to play with developmentally appropriate computer or video games, ideally accompanied by the parent or caregiver.” 

Toy Safety

In 2018, there were 17 deaths of children younger than 15 related to toys, and about 166,200 toy-related ER-treated injuries. Most of the deaths were associated with riding toys and children choking on small parts like small balls and balloons, according to the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).

While toy recalls continue to decline — there have been 12 toy recalls in 2019, compared to 172 in 2008 — the reasons for recalling toys remain serious. In 2019, recalled toys presented choking, fire, burn and laceration hazards among other hazards that posed a threat of death or injury to children, according to CPSC.

When looking for safe toys, look at the characteristics of the toy as well as how it might be used or abused. Also pay attention to whether the toy requires supervision or help for safe play. Avoid toys with button batteries or high-powered magnets. 

  • To view toy safety concerns, visit SaferProducts.gov. 
  • For a list of toy safety recalls, visit Recalls.gov.

Occupational Therapy Services for Children at MRH

Memorial Regional Hospital offers occupational therapy sessions for children to address the following:

  • Autism
  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Attention deficit disorder (ADD)
  • Sensory processing disorders
  • Genetic disorders
  • Fine motor delays
  • Difficulty with activities of daily living (ADL)
  • Visual processing deficits
  • And more! 

MRH also offers Integrated Listening Systems (integratedlistening.com), a neurotechnology company that systematically integrates music, movement and language exercises for the purpose of improving brain function. 

For more information, call the MRH Speech-Language Therapy team at 970-824-5992

Track Your Child’s Development

For a list of important developmental milestones, as well as tools that can help you track your child’s progress, visit cdc.gov/ncbddd/actearly. To learn more about healthy media and screen habits for your children, visit healthychildren.org.

Holiday Toy Shopping Safety Tips

  • Follow age guidelines and other safety information on the toy packaging. 
  • Choose toys that match your child’s interests and abilities.
  • Get safety gear, especially helmets for scooters and riding toys. Helmets should fit properly and be worn at all times.
  • Keep small balls and toys with small parts away from children younger than 3.
  • Keep deflated balloons away from children younger than 8. Throw o