We live in an age where technology is increasingly encroaching on more areas of our lives. Of course, it was inevitable that our children’s toys would follow suit. Years ago, before a child’s first toy became an iPhone or iPad, children actually required motor skills for play. Their toys required a child to stack, bang or twist to make something happen.
Cause and effect toys are very different now than they were when we were growing up. Who recalls the Busy Box with doors that required a child to push a button, turn a knob, or dial a rotary phone to open a door to find Big Bird, Grover, Cookie Monster, or the Count hiding behind it? There were no lights or music. Rather, by using certain hand movements needed for further development of our hand muscles, we were actually able to cause an event to occur. When there were lights or music, the child had to work to make it happen.
We have been researching toy manufacturers in our quest for the elusive toy that is simple, basic, and addresses our children’s developmental motor needs. However, all the toys we found let a baby push a button, and the lights and music go on, and everything moves. This baby does not need to do anything else—not twist a wrist, manipulate his fingers or do anything that develops manual dexterity. As this baby becomes a toddler, his play morphs into sliding a screen on the iPhone and pushing a button to play a game. How will he develop motor skills if all he does is drag his index finger across a screen?
Whereas crawling develops both large and small muscles to prepare a child for pre-writing and writing skills, toys are important for developing hand muscles, problem solving skills, eye-hand coordination, bilateral skills, frustration tolerance and so much more. Today’s toys do little to enhance a child’s fine motor development. Remember, children learn through play. “Play is the work of children” is a quote that in one form or another has been attributed to both psychologist Jean Piaget or educator Maria Montessori. Indeed, it is through play with others, or independent play with a variety of objects, or toys , in a child’s environment, that advances learning. This is certainly true with advancing both gross and fine motor skills.
Another important area that may be impacted by today’s technology is a child’s attention span. Many children today can keep their attention focused on a computer, TV, or iPad, but when it comes to activities that are more physically challenging, attention tends to wane and many children do not persevere when faced with physically challenging activities.
Functionally, many of these children can operate an iPad or other technologically advanced gadget, but have difficulty with writing skills, using scissors and tying shoes. Since this is an issue that can have a great impact on overall development, we would like to propose the following recommendations for parents:
Nothing takes the place of a parent sitting on the floor and playing with your child. This should begin with infancy and never stop. This helps to promote the parent-child relationship as well as develop great social and communication skills in addition to creating a love of play. Turn off your cell phone for 15 minutes a day and play with your child.
Keep musical and light-up toys for infants to a minimum. It shouldn’t be so easy for them to activate a toy. The motivation of accessing the toy and getting it to work should make them move and try to figure out what the object will do once they reach it.
Encourage your children to play with low-tech toys in addition to whatever it is that you already have. Our community is blessed with Shabbos so many families have an excuse to own low tech toys. Encourage your children to use them.
Encourage your children to be active participants in their own activities of daily living, such as dressing and feeding, as early as possible.
Have one or two arts and crafts boxes and fill them with all kinds of markers, child-safe scissors, glue sticks, paper and more. Encourage your child to make collages using old magazines or catalogs.
A box with Play-Doh or putty is another great way to encourage children to use their hands. Rolling the dough or putty into snakes and forming letters is a great way to practice forming the letters of the alphabet and work on the inner hand muscles.
Alyssa and Aviva operate Kids Therapy Place and can be reached at: (201) 525-0050 or kidstplace_yahoo.com
By Alyssa Colton MA, OTR/L and Aviva Lipner MA, OTR/L