My toys growing up were mostly of the low-tech variety: Lincoln Logs and Legos, Hot Wheels Cars and Big Wheels. Few things in the house required batteries, and with four siblings all pretty close in age, our toys were built to take a beating. The latest flashing, squealing, spinning gizmo? Not even on birthdays—we were deprived children.
Or maybe not, says a new study out of UBC in Vancouver: Maybe my traditional, low-tech toys led to more creative, interactive, and educational play. "When I was your age, we played with tin cans and rocks!" You've probably heard someone say something along those lines, or maybe you've even said it yourself.
This UBC research suggests that there may really be something to those arguments that simple is better, but not in the way you may think. It's the parents' play skills (these researchers only studied mothers and their children) that take a serious dive with electronic toys.
The results showed that when mums played with a toddler with electronic toys, they were less responsive, less educational in their play style (for example, providing fewer labels, less often expanding children's words etc), and slightly less encouraging.
In past research, these factors in mother and child playing style have been linked with later outcomes for the kids, for example in terms of language development.
It might be productive to inform parents how to make the most of the new toy gadgets without completely forsaking their traditional pretend-play skills. As the researchers said - "perhaps parents can ... be taught how to mediate manipulative and interactive products to more positively support their infants' and toddlers' development and learning."
I guess that's the big takeaway: We need to fight against the tendency for technology to lull us into complacency and rob us all of our "pretend-play skills."