Do Educational Toys Help with Intellectual Growth?

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In the United States, 90% of a preschool child’s playtime involves a toy. Unsurprisingly, the number of toys bought for children on average grew during the pandemic since the social interactions between children had to be foregone for the time being. There have also been major concerns about children losing out on school time, and there is a surge in people investing in educational toys.

Researchers looked at fine motor skills, problem-solving capacity and social interactions, and creative expression. They found that educational toys do not significantly perform better than traditional toys such as building blocks, play dough, or color-by-numbers sets. Many of these toys shoehorn advanced learning into them, but just as children know when you have been pureeing spinach in their smoothies that something is off, they can tell when a math class has been disguised as playtime. While the novelty of a new gadget may get them to engage in the concept for the first time, it rarely carries forward into motivation to learn after the newness of the toy wears off. This is in contrast with the traditional toys, which hold the child’s attention for a far longer time. Educational toys are typically more expensive, to begin with. Since they do not engage children for very long, parents may buy them more often, creating a much more significant drain on their incomes.

In contrast, many games which are not marketed as educational or brain-boosting might help children grasp essential concepts. (Angry Birds, for example, can teach a child how trajectories work when an object is thrown and encourages the user to experiment until they find the right path). The critical factor is the quality of interaction. Book readers who speak out a book to the child cannot replace an adult-child interaction. Learning through play is essential, and a significant aspect of play is peer-to-peer interaction as well. So, a game that allows children to interact (even through a screen) is generally better for the child than the ones played in isolation. One thing that the educational toys do get right, though- they are most often not gendered. Research shows that young girls are just as interested in building blocks and construction-based toys, often marketed only towards boys. It is more helpful to go with your child’s individual choice in such cases.
We have all looked in wonder at a child looking at something for the very first time and instantly making connections. That is what needs to be encouraged, and toys that spoon-feed information to young minds can actively hinder that. Parents often joke that their kid was more interested in a random empty box than an expensive toy, and there’s the reason for that. The empty box could be anything, and it was limited only by the child’s imagination. The highly detailed toy could only ever be one thing, which eventually becomes tiresome.
Children have critical learning periods in which they can pick up skills quickly, and toys can help pick up those skills. What makes the difference is the quality of human interaction while using these toys.

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