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Daily Newscasts

Shopping for Tots? Keep it Simple, Santa

December 13, 2010

RICHMOND, Va. - Those battery-operated digital wonder toys have their place, but experts say the best way to help younger children develop creativity and imagination is to "Keep it simple, Santa." Filling and emptying a can of tennis balls can keep some children fascinated. Hundreds of do-it-yourself ideas and plans for easy, inexpensive toys can be found on the Internet.

Dana Friedman, president of the Early Years Institute, says the basic principle is that less is more.

"Anybody who's ever given a toy to an infant knows that they're going to play with the box rather than what's inside."

Joan Almon, executive director of the Alliance for Childhood, says parents should consider avoiding high-tech toys altogether for kids under age five.

"You want play materials that are 90 percent child and only ten percent defined. Meaning if a toy is really defined, as most electronic and battery-operated toys are today, there is very little room for the child's own imagination to come in."

Dana Friedman says these days children are "natives" in the digital world, while their parents are "immigrants." And before immersing kids in computers and high-tech gadgets, she says, their creative and imaginative "muscles" need to be developed and flexed.

"In most cases, a toy that uses technology is one-directional. It is a program that says if you do this, then you're going to get this result. But this is not experimentation, this is not imagination. This is not what you want little minds to be doing."

And instead of something involving a screen a child can stare at, Friedman suggests a book of coupons, good for things like a trip to the ice cream store with Dad, a special play date with Mom, a tour of the neighborhood holiday lights, and other ways that allow adults to spend quality time with their children.

Monique Coppola, Public News Service - VA