Today we live in what is probably the most fast-paced era in recent memory. We as a species have slowed down the development and distribution of dangerous tech compared to the 20th century. However, we have also made widely available lots of technology that can be even more disruptive, yet not as alarming, in our day-to-day lives. Some of which started to replace classic, physical developmental toys that help children to develop cognitively.
Ever-presence and always-availability is one central issue with information tech in general. Not so long ago, you had to wait a week to see the next episode of your favorite show. Now? You can binge-watch them as much as you like without having to wait for a schedule as soon as it’s online.
The issue does not limit only to entertainment but is also ever-present in work life as well. Those who are parents now might remember that, not so long ago, you had to be in the office for your colleagues to throw work your way.
Now they can just message you either through email or a text app you more likely than not have installed on your phone. A phone that, by the way, you carry with you for a significant amount of your day. Can we start to see the issue a bit clearer now?
The problem with information technology’s now seemingly permanent integration in our day-to-day lives is how it disrupts your time. You might be having a pleasant conversation at the table or about to play with your children when, suddenly, the phone veeps.
It’s from the office; you have to take this one. Maybe you will play some other time, right? Maybe, maybe not. But the problem is that, due to how ever-present the communication device now is, it has an enormous chance of disrupting what you are doing at the moment. Also, it affects your children as well.
Taking one stroll down your local mall and you can stumble upon one striking sight that, a couple of years ago, would be unbeliaveable: children with tablets. Be it tablets, phones, or any other similar mobile device. Nowadays, it is common for a parent to allow children to use them to entertain themselves. This begs the question, do electronic devices help children develop just as much as physical developmental toys do?
The idea is simple as it is clearly logical: give the child a mobile device with a game loaded up and ready to go. They will keep themselves entertained and you, as a parent, are free to attend to other things. That’s in theory, of course. In reality, children now getting most of their playtime from sitting and staring at a screen does represent a significant change. Its not only a change in the nature of the activity but also in its results.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, playtime is essential for child development. The simple act of playing contributes massively to the cognitive, physical, social, and emotional well-being of children.
Thus, playtime represents a must-have part of their healthy development, going as far as to call playtime a human right. And a human right it is, alright, but, as explained before, playtime changed massively in the last couple of years. As a result, the ultimate outcomes it contributes to the cognitive, physical, social, and emotional well-being of children changed too.
Playing with electronics can definitively have a positive impact on the development of children. For example, providing young children with a challenging set of puzzle games stimulates their learning capabilities. To not even mention the benefits, economically speaking. Having several games in one electronic device instead of tens and tens of physical games lying around could be good money-wise. Not so much developmentally-wise.
The fact of the matter is that sitting and staring at a screen can be very mentally stimulating. The right stimulus of the right game could massively help a child. Even in some ways classic developmental toys could nevr. Some games can teach mathematics and even geography in a way so fun that most schools would have a hard time matching.
However, what about face-to-face interaction? It’s very well possible that a group of parents can sync each of their child’s devices for them to play together at their own homes. Yet, studies repeatedly show that playtime outside is much more than just about the toys and games.
Playing outside provides the children with thousand upon thousand of different stimuli that a screen simply cannot. While at the playground, the child can physically interact with the toys, the ground they seat them upon, and the other children there. The interaction, while being mundane for the parent that already experienced it a thousand times, is invaluable for children.
The fact of just being around their peers figuring out rules, orders of actions, and the results their actions have on their environment is priceless. Think about how a group of children can recognize positive emotions on each other’s faces. Do they learn that while playing with an app on a mobile device? Of course not; this is through physically present, social, face-to-face interactions that happen during playtime.
The difference that playtime has with schooltime is that, absent the academic pressures, children interact freely. In other words, they learn how to be themselves around each other. Mobile devices, on the other hand, provide both an abstraction of the interaction and of the activity.
Say they play a game where the character has to scale up a rock wall. Do they learn how to that by just playing said game? No, they might pick up on the technical aspects of the game if it has that much detail at most.
Now, how about they give a try at the monkey bars in the playground? By doing so, they now learn not only how to interact with them. They also gain insight into their own strength, weight, balance, and even the concept of gravity.
Developmental toys are the same, a medium through which they can interact with their environment. Through said interaction, they can pick things on their own, learn about the environment, themselves, and each other. Playtime is not only about a time for playing; it’s perhaps the most essential learning time for children, and developmental toys do make it easier.