Swap Your Child's Electronic Toys for Toys with a Purpose
If you've read an Our First Year blog post before, you know where we stand with regard to electronic toys and screens for babies and toddlers (and even older children). It shouldn't be your first choice! These toys are passive, which means that there is no interaction required to operate them. These types of toys promote instant gratification and do not encourage problem solving, fine motor or social skills; at least not in the early years.
Electronic toys and screens have quickly become a part of our convenience culture. It's much easier to put a screen in front of our child, than to engage in a game or conversation with them. Tablets, smartphones, and various other electronics can become easily addictive, which is in part, due to their ease of operation. Even very young babies know how to swipe at a screen to change an image. That is not to say that technology does not have it's time and place. There are remarkable educational apps for older children and very useful apps for our special needs population.
According to a study first published in JAMA Pediatrics, screen time for children under the age of two has doubled since 1997. Toddlers are now exposed to over three hours of screen time per day! This is detrimental, as screen time is taking away from the time your baby and toddler could be engaged in purposeful play. The Our First Year defines purposeful play as any kind of play that promotes fine motor, gross motor, speech, language and social skills development. Purposeful play also develops children's problem solving abilities, something that passive play does not.
So, how can we, as parents and caregivers, encourage purposeful play in our children? Simple, replace electronics and screens with toys that promote purposeful play. Instead of putting a screen in front of your toddler at the restaurant, color the children's menu with them. Rather than giving your child the tablet in the waiting room, play an exciting game of "I spy." Designate one evening a week to family (and/or friend) game night. Board games are an easy and fun way to teach children social skills, how to win and lose gracefully, and to build up their vocabulary. And don't be surprised if your little ones ask for game night more than once a week.
As a society, we could all benefit from a technology diet. Perhaps enjoy the outdoors a little more, get started on that reading list, meet up with friends (yes, really meet up, rather than a text message here and there), take a cooking class, try a new sport. Beware, like technology, these activities can also be quite addictive :-)
For more ideas on how to decrease screen time and increase purposeful play time with your baby and toddler, check out the Our First Year activity cards that are included in every infant backpack and toddler tote purchase. Engaging with your child has never been so easy...it's all in the bag!