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Best Holiday Gifts for Baby Brains

Big thanks to one of our favorite ladies on social media, My Friend the Pediatrician, for this awesome explanation on brain development and what toys are best.


With the holidays right around the corner, you may be brainstorming gift ideas for your little ones. We know that toys can promote early brain development, but which toys are best? Spoiler alert: NOT the electronic ones!

As technology becomes fancier than ever, traditional toys are being replaced with digital, media-based, electronic, and virtual “toys.” They are often bright and captivating. They can keep your child entertained for hours! But here’s the problem…

Swiping a ball across a tablet does not teach a toddler how to catch and throw. “Assembling” Legos on a screen does not equip your child to build a real 3-D tower. Hearing a story from a talking bear does not translate into real-life story-telling skills. Video games do not teach impulse control, cooperation, or sharing. Dressing internet Barbie does not promote the hand dexterity required to button an actual jacket. Learning animal “emotions” on an iPad does not prepare a child to express and cope with their own feelings in an effective manner.

The best toys are those that encourage human interactions that are rich in language, pretending, problem-solving, cooperation, and creativity. In other words, it’s not the toy itself but the PLAY TIME that’s important for development. Yes, this requires human interaction! Choose toys that you and your child can play with together.

High-quality toys do not need to be expensive. Dolls, puppets, animals, action figures, cars, planes, cooking/feeding utensils, and even household items allow children to learn symbolism and play pretend. Blocks, shapes, balls, puzzles, and trains help with fine motor, adaptive, and manipulative skills. Play-dough, clay, crayons, paint, and markers foster artistic ability. Card games, toy letters, and board games focus on language and concepts. Riding cars, tricycles, and push-and-pull toys aid in gross motor and physical development. Good old-fashioned BOOKS help build language and literacy skills.

Parents are bombarded with advertisements and claims about how the latest “educational” toy or app is going to make their child smarter or more prepared for school. Although it has been suggested that interactive media may promote learning, there is no evidence to show that the benefits match those of active, hands-on play between a parent and child using traditional toys. Social development requires a child to experience human facial expressions, body language, and vocalizations – not flashy lights, music, and synthetic sounds.

Speaking of lights, music, and sounds… these types of toys are often marketed as “developmental” when in reality they can have the opposite effect. The more a toy does on its own, the less your child has to use their own mind and body to make something happen. Watching an electronic toy “perform” is more entertaining than it is educational. Recent studies show that during parent-child play with electronic toys, there are fewer adult words spoken, fewer conversational turns, and fewer parental responses compared to playing with traditional toys or books.

Lastly, let’s not forget to address screen time in general. The time that a child spends staring at a screen (computer, tablet, iPad, etc.) is time that could have been spent learning about the actual world around them. Up to 80% of critical brain development takes place in the first 3 years of life. Babies and toddlers need to touch, smell, shake, throw, and taste things. They need to watch faces, hear voices, and experience human emotion. This is why we recommend no screen time prior to 18 months. Limit screen time to 1 hour from the ages of 2-5 years and no more than 2 hours for kids 6 years and up.

Obviously, you can’t possibly provide hands-on learning and play with your children ALL day long. I realize that you have a million other things that need to get done, so by NO MEANS do I intend to shame, preach, or judge anyone for the way they keep their children safely entertained at home. I know we are all trying to do the best we can.

When feasible, play with your kids by putting down the electronics and exploring the world around you. These childhood years go by so fast.

Please note that this information does not necessarily apply to children with physical, developmental, or neurocognitive impairment.

Primary Source: Healey A, Mendelsohn A, AAP Council on Early Childhood. Selecting Appropriate Toys for Young Children in the Digital Era. Pediatrics. 2019; 143(1)


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- The Baby Whisperers

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1 Comment

Tina Lilith
Tina Lilith
May 26, 2023

As a new baby mom whose baby is crying a lot i would really like to recomend the sleepy willow toys. I don't know what magic do to the baby with the sounds, but mamas i finaly can have some time for me and most importantly some sleep when baby is sleeping. You can find them here hope i can help some mama.

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