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What are the best toys for learning and development?

Dec 3, 2017

There are many ways to define the “best” children’s toys, but specifically in terms of which toys best facilitate learning and development, academic research has found that simple, non-electronic toys are best at keeping kids’ attention and fostering the development of fundamental skills.

There’s ample evidence from multiple sources that basic toys like building blocks, crayons and puzzles are most effective at encouraging children to both interact with parents and other children as well as explore and be imaginative on their own. At the same time, electronic toys that talk and make noise can be distracting and deter communication between children and parents.

One well-respected study on which toys are most effective at fostering positive play is the Center for Early Childhood Education at Eastern Connecticut State University’s TIMPANI research (which stands for Toys that Inspire Mindful Play and Nurture Imagination). It examines preschoolers playing with certain toys and score how the kids play with them on these metrics: thinking and learning, cooperation and social interaction, creativity and imagination, and verbalization.

Below are the last several years of toys that scored the highest.

Why are so many other toys labeled as educational?

Parents should never take toy labeling that says “educational,” “promotes development” or other similar promises at face value, because such claims are rarely supported by rigorous evidence.

In the book Parenting, Inc.: How the Billion-Dollar Baby Business Has Changed the Way We Raise Our Children, Berkeley psychology professor and respected childhood and language development expert Alison Gopnik sums up this reality this way: “There’s no FDA for children’s products. You can say whatever you want about how something will make your baby smarter, and nobody reviews it or asks if there’s research to back this up.”

Why should I trust you?

Our articles are short and direct so parents can quickly get the answers they need, but there’s lengthy research behind everything we publish. If you’d like to check our facts and learn more, here are the best sources we found and used for this article:

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