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How toys can benefit children's mental health

Dec 27, 2011 11:25am
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(NECN/CNN: Susan Hendricks) - For parents, the toy market can be overwhelming. Which toys are actually beneficial for children? A new study finds that simple interactive toys can help kids have fun and learn, too.   

When Laurel and Lindsay Duplicki play together their mom, Sandy tries to give them something constructive or creative to do.  

Child psychologists say that's a good idea, because certain types of structured play can entertain as well as build skills for children as they grow.

"Everybody says oh they are just playing...as if you can't be learning and playing or working and playing at the same time…nothing could be further from the truth," Kathy Hirsh-Pasek said.

Researchers at  Temple University's Infant Lab  found  that when youngsters played with construction blocks with their parents, they used words such as "up", "down" and "on" concepts which doctors say are important for understanding  math, engineering and science.

Investigators observed families in three situations: "free" play " with any toy, preassembled" play, where the children are given blocks that have a fixed structure; and "guided" play, where the little ones are given the blocks along with instructions for building a structure.

Investigators  found guided play was the most effective, because parents and children spoke the same language.

"Parents used spatial language more when they interact with the blocks,"  Nora Newcombe said.

Researchers say this shows playing with an interactive toy is more beneficial to the child than playing with something preassembled, especially when the parent is involved.
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