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Holiday Shopping Tip for Tots: Keep it Simple, Santa

December 17, 2010

SANTA FE, NM - Those battery-operated digital wonder toys have their place, but experts say the best way to help a young child develop creativity and imagination is to "keep it simple, Santa." Filling and emptying a can of tennis balls can keep a child 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 "less is more" is the basic principle.

"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 that while high-tech toys are top "wish list" items for older kids, parents should consider avoiding such toys for children under 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 that these days children are "natives" in the digital world, while their parents are "immigrants." And she says that before immersing kids in computers and high-tech gadgets, 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."

Instead of something involving a screen a child can get lost in, 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 so on. That way you can give the gift of quality time with your child.

Eric Mack/Deb Courson, Public News Service - NM