What is on your toddler’s Christmas list this year? If it has a plug, flashing lights and a touch screen, you might want to have a chat with Santa.
According to Dr. Rick Graebe, a behavioral optometrist with Children’s Vision and Learning Center in Versailles, these are not the best toys for your child’s development.
“Our visual system is made to operate in a three-dimensional world,” Dr. Graebe said.
“Too often kids lock into a shiny, illuminated, two-dimensional screen.”
So when you’re out gift shopping this month, think “old school,” Dr. Graebe said.
Instead of computer games and touch screen tablets, children need toys that help develop their visual systems.
Toys that require children to reach, touch and manipulate will activate the senses of a child as she learns about spatial orientation and motor skill planning.
Sensory integration is a learned, developmental process that needs to be encouraged by the environment.
Too much screen time during this crucial developmental stage can derail that process.
That’s why traditional, hands-on toys are so important, Dr. Graebe said.
Watching children learn to draw with crayons demonstrates this process.
A 1-year-old will color right off the edge of the paper because her eyes are busy watching her hands to learn how they operate in space.
A year later, the same child will do a better job of staying on the paper as her eyes begin to direct her hands.
By the time she is 3, her visual system will have developed enough to direct and coordinate her motor skills so that she is more likely to stay within the lines while coloring.
Other appropriate toys are:
- Bean bags
- Balls of any size
- Wooden building blocks, Duplo blocks, Lincoln Logs, etc.
- Jacks, pickup sticks, Jenga
“These toys will wake up a child’s sensory system,” Dr. Graebe said. “Our sensory systems need plenty of time and experience to develop.”
Dr. Graebe also recommends traditional childhood games like follow the leader, hopscotch and tag.
“There is value in traditional children’s games,” he said. “They build a foundation for kids.”
So, as you shop for your young children this holiday season, put down those electronics and look for hands-on toys. Those are gifts that will keep on giving.