With the world’s ever-increasing access to gadgets — cell phones, smart TVs, tablets and laptops — today’s children spend more time in front of a screen than ever. The concept of going outside to play, crafting something out of raw materials, or interacting with one another eludes many children as parents find it easier to distract their young ones with a shiny gadget.
Sure, the glossy screen and digital entertainment may keep the kids quiet and occupied for a while, but these impressionable children are missing out on developing some crucial cognitive skills. According to Facts for Life, “the first five years of a child’s life are fundamentally important. They are the foundation that shapes children’s future health, happiness, growth, development and learning achievement at school, in the family and community, and in life in general.”
During research testing, when tablets were taken away, the “toddlers transformed into more verbal, more social and more creative creatures.”
But all too often, I see toddlers glued to screens at restaurants, public parks and in their strollers. It’s clear that some of today’s parents have forgotten that there are plenty of classic and new toys to keep children occupied while still fostering their curiosity, learning, and problem solving skills.
Here are a few fun products to help your child “unplug” and exercise their imagination.
Tonka trucks have been around since 1955, and their instantly recognizable construction vehicles have been updated and toughened up for even the most demanding playtime. I had a few of these trucks as a child and they helped me navigate elaborate imaginary construction sites all over the house.
The functional vehicle components encourage hand-eye coordination and the physical size of the trucks emphasize spatial awareness, especially when they’re left out to be kicked by a parent — I quickly learned to put away my toys!
Having two or more trucks working together can help teach the concepts of teamwork, transportation, and the need for different and specialized roles. Try giving your little “construction managers” some tasks by having them transfer and transport loose items like Duplo blocks.
New for 2015 are Stackins Stackable Friends, a “collectible line of animal-themed stackable plush with adorable features and personalities.” These soft and colorful plushies have fun names like Rocky the Racoon, Bouquet the Skunk, and Checkers the Cheetah.
With their round, pillow-like shapes, they can be stacked on top of each other to create a cute pile of animal friends. It’s a great way to become familiar with the characteristics of different animals as well as learn about the laws of gravity — it took me a few tries to get the four little ones to stay stacked!
Each Stackins Friend comes in both a large and small size, mirroring the child’s current situation (big human, little human), and can segue into conversations about diversity and friendship.
The Strider bike is an ingenious invention that’s designed to dramatically lower the learning curve for riding a traditional bicycle. Without the distraction of pedals, Strider bikes allow “children to concentrate on the fundamental skills of balancing, leaning, and steering while propelling the bike in a natural way.” Kids as young as 18 months old can begin to build confidence and improve their motor skills with a safe, simple, and fun ride.
I brought the Strider bike to my friends’ place, and in less than 15 minutes, their son Elaye was gliding around the backyard like a pro.
The mechanics of propelling the Strider bike are similar to what kids are already familiar with — running and walking — and because their feet are always close to the ground, the bike introduces the concept of balancing without adding a fear of falling over.
Take a page out of your own childhood and ditch the digital wares for some real-world learning and fun. You’ll have more opportunities to engage with your children, and they’ll have more memories to look back on that don’t involve staring at a screen.
Photos by Andrew Chen and Shutterstock.