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Choose toys to boost kids' positive playing

By Bonnie Coblentz

MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Most households with children have a new pile of toys from the holidays, but specialists warn that not all toys are good for kids.

Louise Davis, child and family development specialist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, said ideally, toys entertain and promote creative, non-violent play in youth. The commercialization of play has moved the toy industry from putting children first to promoting items because of their ability to generate revenues.

"Play is essential to children's healthy development and learning. Children use play to learn, to meet social or emotional needs and to acquire life skills," Davis said. "Toys are the tools of children's play. Good toys enhance children's imagination and allow them to problem-solve and try out their own ideas."

For 10 years, TRUCE -- Teachers Resisting Unhealthy Children's Entertainment -- has put together a guide to help parents and teachers select toys that encourage positive play and avoid toys that limit imagination and creativity. Full information can be found online at http://www.truceteachers.org.

TRUCE provides some general guidelines and specific examples of what the group's members feel are toys of value and toys to avoid.

According to the teacher's organization, the play value of toys is enhanced when they:

  • can be used in many ways and allow children to determine the play,
  • appeal to children at more than one age or level of development,
  • are not linked to video games, television or movies,
  • can be used with other toys for new and more complex play, and
  • help children develop skills important for further learning and a sense of mastery.

Toys that encourage dramatic play "help children work out their own ideas about their experiences," the TRUCE website states. Such toys include blocks; toy vehicles; dress-up clothes such as hats, vests and fabric swatches; toy animals; dolls; puppets; and props to recreate real life such as a restaurant or store.

Toys that encourage manipulative play help children develop small muscle control and hand-eye coordination. Examples include construction sets, puzzles, models and toys with interlocking pieces. Creative arts toys can encourage self-expression and the use of symbols, vital skills for problem-solving and literacy. These include blank pieces of paper, paints, markers, scissors, glue, clay, stamps and more.

Physical play lets children work off energy and build strength and coordination. Bikes, scooters, balls, jump ropes, swing sets and climbing structures all encourage this type of play. Games teach children about taking turns, planning strategy, following rules and cooperating with teammates or opponents. Standard examples are dominoes, card games and checkers, although many games are available for young children, too.

"Toys have limited play value when they can only be used in one way, encourage everyone to play the same way as determined by the toy designer and appeal primarily to a single age or level of development," TRUCE states.

The organization encourages parents and teachers to avoid toys that encourage children to imitate scripts they see on TV or in movies or to watch those programs. Avoid toys that perform special high-tech actions for the child instead of encouraging the child's exploration and mastery. Toys that promote violence and stereotypes can lead to disrespectful and aggressive behavior.

Specific types of toys to avoid include those with violent themes that are the focus of the play, those linked to media entertainment designed for older audiences, those that encourage premature sexuality, those that make shopping the focus of play or those that use electronics in toys for babies.

Davis encouraged parents and those buying for children to select toys carefully.

"Define your values about violent toys and decide for yourself the role you want toys to play in the child's life," Davis said. "Provide plenty of opportunities for interesting activities and encourage the child's positive interests and hobbies."

Davis encouraged parents and teachers to reduce or eliminate the time children spend in front of a television or computer screen, choose simple toys powered by the child's imagination and encourage outdoor activities.

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Released: Jan. 6, 2005
Contact: Dr. Louise Davis, (662) 325-3089

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