WMU News

Toys can help children develop important skills

Dec. 17, 2003

KALAMAZOO--When shopping for toys for your child or someone else's, pay attention to what could help the child developmentally. That's the advice of Dr. Regena Fails-Nelson, a Western Michigan University associate professor of teaching, learning and leadership and an authority on early childhood development.

"We generally support toys and materials that allow children to learn and practice emerging developmental skills, such as fine motor skills, through art activities and materials, like paint, crayons, glue and clay," she says. "Cognitive development can be aided through puzzles, sorting toys, blocks, and construction toys, like Legos, and dramatic play props, such as kitchen sets and costumes."

Other toys can stimulate language and reading development, such as the new LeapFrog products or video and computer software products. But there's no substitute for interaction with parents and other adults when working on those skills, Fails-Nelson says. "Language and literacy development is best learned through shared book reading with an adult. These products are an alternative when an adult can't be around to work directly with the child, but it should not be a total substitute for parental interaction. These items should be used carefully in moderation."

Parents and other adults should take cues from the child and avoid "drilling" information into them. "Play for young children is the way they learn best," she says. "We must take our cues from them about what interests them at a particular moment and engage them in it." One last word of advice: avoid toys that are gender and culturally biased or promote violent behavior.

Media contact: Gail Towns, 269 387-8400, gail.towns@wmich.edu

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