Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Thinking Outside the XBox {An Old Curmudgeon's Guide to Holiday Shopping}

Why don't I think electronic toys are a great choice for holiday gifts?  Let me count the ways...

Electronic toys are addictive, violent, and don't require or encourage creativity.

Children don't acquire critical skills like depth perception, hand eye coordination, problem solving, motor planning, joint stability, or balance while playing video games.

Electronic toys encourage isolation, not socialization.  They don't require making conversation or eye contact.  They don't teach social skills like turn taking, patience, or sportsmanship, they don't require the child to plan and strategize against a human opponent, and they require nothing in the way of negotiation or compromise.

Video games encourage hyperfocusing instead of fostering the development of flexible attention.  Flexible attention, the ability to concentrate on one thing while maintaining awareness of, and selectively responding to, everything else, is absolutely essential for success at school, the workplace, and in social situations.

Children who spend all their time sitting indoors playing on electronic toys are at risk for delays in their neurological development.  In order for a child to acquire a strong, stable, vigorous, healthy body with reliable balance and good vision and perception, he has to freely explore and interact with his physical environment, not sit staring at a screen for hours on end.  He needs  constant opportunities to move and use his body in all kinds of ways.  To be physically healthy and mentally and emotionally sane, he needs a great deal of regular activity out of doors so that he can breathe fresh air,  absorb the sunshine, and have contact with the natural world.

Why is this necessary?  An immature, inefficient nervous system that does not allow the child to respond to his world in a strong, healthy, flexible manner has a profound negative influence on learning and behavior, and sets the child up for being at risk for learning and behavioral problems.  A sedentary child is at risk for all kinds of health problems including obesity, and, later down the road, diabetes.

Recently, the mother of a little boy I have been treating decided to put away all of his electronic toys and to spend the time with him outside instead.  In combination with the work we are doing in the clinic to help him catch up neurologically, the change in his behavior and his ability to function in school was immediate and profound:  he went from being a serious behavior problem to being a class leader.

The best toys are ones that are open ended and encourage creativity and artistic expression, have problems to solve, and allow the child to develop and refine fine motor coordination by manipulating materials in three dimensions.

Some suggestions:

Art supplies are always a big hit with small children. Suggestions include but are not limited to rubber stamps, colored pencils, paint, sequins, glitter, feathers, pipe cleaners, stickers, construction paper, scissors that cut scalloped edges, modeling clay, Sculpey or Fimo, beads for stringing, scrapbooking supplies, a chalkboard easel with lots of colored chalk.

Crafts:  weaving potholders, woodworking, leather lacing, coppertooling, beading, perler beads, tessel tiles, suncatchers, kits for sewing your own puppet or stuffed animal.  For an older child, an introductory kit that teaches knitting or crocheting, or a little frame loom, can be an introduction to a meaningful pursuit that will last across the child's life span.

Games:  I particularly like Jenga, Connect Four, Operation, Tier Auf Tier, Scrabble, Boggle, and Monopoly for teaching social skills and fine motor coordination.

Musical Instruments:  Harmonicas, whistles, recorders, kazoos, drums, bells.  Toy stores or music stores usually have a great selection of inexpensive instruments.

Cooking:  A little chef's kit or set of children's baking ware can be a wonderful way to get a child interested in eating good food and cooking.

Outdoor fun:  The possibilities are infinite:  balls, skates, jump ropes, a scooter, a telescope for looking at the stars at night, some camping equipment and a promise to use it when it gets warm.

Indoor fun:  A little trampoline, a Sit N Spin, a Zoomball, a hula hoop.

What was your favorite book as a child?  Chances are the children in your life will enjoy it just as much, especially if you read it to them.

{Here is last year's post, with more suggestions.}


Babajeza said...

Sorry for commenting so late. As always, I agree with you. However, I HATE Monopoly. ;-)

This year, the gifts I am making include an iron (for my oldest son. I can't believe it, he actually asked for it.), socks, books, hats, sweaters, an artsy sugar box, candles. Some givts are made by myself, some are not.

Kitty said...

I'm a fellow pediatric OT in Brooklyn, really enjoy your blog! I just saw this and loved it!