Tuesday 23 April 2013

No More Electronic Toys

A few weeks ago, I introduced a ban on all electronic toys. I got a cardboard box, and worked my way round the house gathering up all of the battery powered toys. We had a lot of them. They are now tucked away, out of Ebony’s reach, until further notice.

Any parent reading this will assume it was the drone-like lifeless sing song electronic sounds that drove me to this stage. Admittedly, I do hate all electronic toys with a burning passion, but it was not the desire to protect my own mental health that caused this change. It was the need to protect Ebony.

We had a variety of electronic toys. Some with flashing lights, others with moving parts, but all noisy. Oh the noise. The premise of near all of the toys was this: press button, be rewarded with short music, press button again. Repeat indefinitely until (delete as appropriate) the batteries die/Mummy throws the toy against the wall.

The toys
Watching Ebony plays with the toys was a little creepy. She would press the button repeatedly, almost in a trance like state, in order to hear the bittersweet reward of a ten second burst of a joyless tune. The behaviour was almost obsessive, and the electronic toys were her favourite.

Around the time of her first birthday, Ebony went through a stage of gathering her favourite belongings, and herself, into a box. On every occasion, the electronic toys were the first in. The bilingual shape toy, the demo keyboard and the shrill ladybird would make it to the final cut every time. They were her favourites.

As Ebony’s understanding of the world developed, so did her play. Imagination became a key part in her games. She would make her soft toys dance, kiss and go to sleep. Her animals would help her eat her snacks. Watching her play these games was eyeopening. It was wonderful to see her looking after her toys, the way we look after her. Gently kissing them and tucking them in. But then an electronic toy would catch her eye again, and she would go and play with that instead. Pressing the button, hearing the music, and pressing the button again.

There was no interaction, no exploration. She had to press the right button to hear the music, and so that is what she did. I decided that this couldn’t be healthy. I read that:
  • Mothers and toddlers interact more when playing with non-electronic toys. This was definitely true in our house. The only involvement I had when Ebony played with electronic toys, was glaring angrily and swearing under my breath.
  • Toys should be 90 per cent child, and only 10 per cent toy. With the electronic toys, all Ebony can do is press the correct button. Anything else, and the toy won’t work. With her soft toys, she can do whatever she likes. She can use her imagination to fill in the blanks.
  • Electronic toys play for your child, and so your child may find wooden blocks or other traditional toys boring in comparison. Simply because they do not have the imagination or motivation to create the play themselves.
  • Toddlers use play to learn about social interaction. By playing with you, or with other children, they learn how to interact with other people. Building blocks, getting dolls to give kisses to people, and playing peekaboo are all good ways of doing this. Repeatedly pressing a button to see a flashing light, is not. Little is learnt from these toys, other than how to work that particular toy.
  • Parental attachment is affected by the quality of play. Using electronic toys as babysitters, can have a negative impact on your relationship. High quality, interactive play between parent and child is more likely to form part of a strong parent-child bond.

Using her imagination
Since confining all of the electronic toys to the dark corner of the closet, I have noticed that:
  • Ebony has taken a greater interest in her more traditional toys. For example, she has rediscovered her musical instruments.
  • She spends more time enjoying books. She will select a book from the shelf, and bring it over to me to read. I must spend an hour of every day with her snuggled up in my lap as I read Tabby McTat.
  • She is more interested in what I am doing. If I try to sneak off into the kitchen to start cooking or make a cup of tea, instead of staying glued to the spot pressing buttons, she will now follow me. Watching me prepare dinner, or sort out the washing, has a higher educational value than pressing a button.
  • She is becoming more creative with her play. Her animals are taking on a whole host of new skills and activities each week. She is finding new ways of playing with her toys together. And she is including more objects in her play. She is exploring her world through play, just as she should be.

Now, when I watch her play, I feel proud of my inquisitive, thoughtful explorer. I am no longer worried that her toys may be turning her into a zombie.

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