June 12, 2012

Batteries NOT Allowed

The recent rain has encouraged me to change up my play routine with my son. Today was particularly dark and overcast afternoon, so my son and I stayed in instead of taking our daily walk to the swings. At first, I was worried about how I could possibly entertain an 11 month old for 3 hours before bedtime. My husband and I decided on a “no screen time” rule, so educational shows and programs where out. So, I put on some music and watched Shay dig into his box of toys.

Because of my personal dislike of annoying electronic noises and flashy lights, I decided to ban all toys with such traits. We’re left with wooden blocks, board books, stackable cups, wooden cars, tambourines, pots, pans, lids and wooden spoons. Shay also has an array of rattles and stuffed animals. One of my friends, upon seeing this rather modest collection of toys, asked, “Doesn’t he get bored?” “Oddly, no.” I answered. Even the simplest of toys- just a pastic mirror- seems to keep his focus. Since Shay doesn’t know what he is missing, how could he miss those toys? Or, how could be be bored? She went on to ask if I intended to eventually let him use “educational video games” since those are intended for learning. I explained that I will have to make that decision when the time comes, but for now my husband and I are really hoping to follow the AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics) advice to avoid screen time until 2 years. (Now, I say this and he is only 11 months old. So who knows what I will resort to at a year and half! But for now, that is our intention.)

Part of my reasoning for this decision came years ago, when Pamela Paul (a 3 time PYC alumni) and author of Parenting, Inc led a lecture at the studio based on the findings of her book. Parenting, Inc discusses the the huge expense of “learning toys” and the lack of data that supports the claims that these toys actually enhance your child’s intelligence. In the past several years, there have been multiple articles and studies explaining that learning videos like Baby Einstein or Brainy Baby, can cause more harm then good. “Led by Frederick Zimmerman and Dr. Dimitri Christakis, both at the University of Washington, the research team found that with every hour per day spent watching baby DVDs and videos, infants learned six to eight fewer new vocabulary words than babies who never watched the videos. These products had the strongest detrimental effect on babies 8 to 16 months old, the age at which language skills are starting to form. “The more videos they watched, the fewer words they knew,” says Christakis. “These babies scored about 10% lower on language skills than infants who had not watched these videos.” (1)

Along with the downfall of Baby Einstein came the demise of the claim that classical music, such as Baby Mozart, has a positive cognitive effect on the developing brain of an infant. “Earlier this year, the Federal Ministry of Education and Research in Germany published a second review study from a cross-disciplinary team of musically inclined scientists who declared the phenomenon nonexistent. “I would simply say that there is no compelling evidence that children who listen to classical music are going to have any improvement in cognitive abilities,” adds Rauscher, now an associate professor of psychology at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh. “It’s really a myth, in my humble opinion.” (2)

All these trends add up to big business. The U.S. “mom market” is estimated at $1.7 trillion a year, with more than $700 million alone coming from toys for children under 2. (3)

I have read the research and stand proudly behind my proclamation of “Batteries NOT Allowed!” in my young child’s toy selection. We are sticking with the idea of “back to basics.” I believe problem solving skills can be learned from simple methods, and reading books to him have an even better effect on him than a video (plus it is fun!). He can continue to play with boxes, blocks and books.

I would be happy to hear your thoughts. What is your child’s favorite toy?

Here are some of Shay’s favorite toys!

great wooden toys from Plan Toys
great wooden toys from Plan Toys
Books can be fun, too!
Books can be fun, too!

An avalanche of toys
An avalanche of toys

"Stackable" by Green Toys

Sources
(1) http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1650352,00.html
(2) http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=fact-or-fiction-babies-ex
(3) http://www.reuters.com/article/2008/04/03/us-books-parenting-idUSN0331660420080403

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