Stevanne Auerbach, PhD, a.k.a. “Dr. Toy,” has been one of the world’s leading experts on toys and play for 49 years. Since 1968, Dr. Toy has been asking: “What is good for a child’s development?” “That’s the realm I’ve been exploring most of my career,” says the author of 15 books, including the 4th edition of Dr. Toy’s Smart Play Smart Toys. With a PhD in child development and a background in special education, she evaluates countless toys each year. Over 6,000 products are included in the archives on Dr Toy’s Guide, which is updated annually. She’s also a parent and playful grandparent.
Babyproductsmom chatted with Dr. Toy to learn more about what babies get from toys, how to make the most of play time, and which toys to buy for your baby this holiday season.
Q: What do babies learn by playing?
Dr. Toy: They benefit from the stimulation, the interaction with adults and other children, the fun and the surprise. That’s the most important part of play and the toy is just a device to bring people together. The toys a child plays with can unlock the door to learning, and each new experience helps to turn the key. But you are your child’s first “Big Toy.” The more you know about yourself, your child’s development, and her play patterns, the more you’ll be able to use toys and yourself as learning and skill-building tools.
Q: What kinds of toys do you recommend for a baby’s first six months?
Dr. Toy: There’s a general list in my book. It includes:
Bath toys, which provide tactile stimulation, help focus your baby’s attention;
A mobile, which promotes visual focus and builds attention span;
A music box for auditory stimulation and soothing;
A rattle, to help improve your baby’s awareness of sound and attention span and provides tactile stimulation;
A teether, which helps develop your baby’s sense of touch, taste, hearing, and eyesight
Stuffed plush toys for tactile development;
Cloth blocks for tactile stimulation; grasping helps foster small muscle coordination and spatial awareness;
Crib toys and gym, to stimulate all five senses and develop small muscle coordination;
Link rings to promote hand-eye coordination;
A mirror for visual stimulation, visual development and self-image perception;
A soft ball for grasping, throwing and retrieving; it fosters motor development.
Q: How have toys changed the most over the course of your impressive career?
Dr. Toy: Electronics have changed the nature of some products. But I don’t think toys are necessarily better because they’re electronic. They don’t necessarily do more for children or are more beneficial. If babies don’t have basic experiences, such as reaching and touching blocks, and they go directly to an iPad, they’re missing out on essentials for their development. Sensory, tactile and small motor movements make important brain connections. Using crayons and finger painting is very different from putting it on a screen where it’s all done for them.
Electronic toys need to be balanced. Let your child experience some of the electronic toys if you want, but don’t let him become immersed in them. Keep the basics too,” such as NogginRings Reaching & Grasping Rings (that’s a toy Dr. Toy recommends on her Classic toy list).
Q: Every year, you update your toy lists. How do toys make your “Dr. Toy” recommendation lists?
Dr. Toy: I try to find a balance of products that are worth the money, that are safe and well-tested and that make sense and that aren’t too expensive. Innovation is also important to me. Green Toys, for example. They’re using milk cartons and recycling them to produce new products. They’re nice, safe products for young children.
Green Toys best new toys for this holiday season include:
Children’s toys with an accompanying book, such as Mix Up Trucks (printed in the U.S. with soy ink).
Green Toys Early 4-piece puzzles
CelebriDucks, a line of rubber ducks that are free of PVC, BPA, lead, phthalates, parabens and Latex paint. That’s the kind of thing that’s very appealing to me. I evaluate all the toys myself. It’s my judgment call—what I feel is sensible and makes for a useful product at good value.
There’s a glut of new products every year. I try to cherry pick toys that are really innovative and different. For my 100 Best List, I pick one product from each company. If you’re a new parent with a new product, you’ll get the balance with the Hasbros of the world. Companies pay a nominal application fee but there’s no guarantee that any toy will be included.
Q: If you were going to a baby shower, which toy would you give as a gift?
Check out this post for more about playing with your baby with toys teaches him/her.
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