Kids in a Digital Age: Can Technology Really Replace Toys for Learning?

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A growing debate about the impact of technology on a child’s education has raised the question of whether technology can adequately replace traditional toys for learning, and acquiring social skills.

The importance of online safety

The results of a survey by toy maker LeapFrog, show that although 43% of respondents readily acknowledge the importance of technology in their children’s lives, 26% of those asked added that they were not always able to supervise their children when using it.

Managing Director of LeapFrog, Chris Spalding, was quoted in the online magazine, Toy World, as saying:

“As smart phones and adult tablets become more prevalent in households with children, it is not just about incurring costs accidentally, but also about children potentially experiencing inappropriate content via the internet.”

Online safety is uppermost in the minds of many parents, but it can be difficult to ensure their child does not come into contact with inappropriate content while making use of technology.

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Memorable and long-lasting

Traditional toys can enrich a childhood and remain memorable for years to come. They provide a way to engage safely with other children and adults, and offer a different type of learning experience than that which is available using technology.

This experience provides opportunities for role-play, and valuable human interaction that helps a child understand the society in which they live. The popularity of famous brands such as Sylvanian Families has not waned throughout the three decades since its launch, and it is argued by many that toys such as these enable a child to better understand society, and which types of behaviours are acceptable.

The longevity of this particular brand is illustrated by its wide availability both on the high street and online shops, including http://www.ebay.co.uk, where many second hand versions of the toys are traded and collected.

The debate about whether technology can replace toys for learning is summed up by the Huffington Post using these words from Ron Weingartner, a leading toy and game expert who worked with Hasbro Games,

“Perhaps parents need to understand that they are the gatekeepers of a child’s playtime, and it is their responsibility to monitor the mixture and balance of digital and physical playthings and to also participate and share in their activities.”

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It is this parental involvement that is the important factor, regardless of whether the toy is technological or physical. Learning takes place during any form of play, and ongoing guidance from adults is usually required for happy and productive playtimes.

In 2011, students at the Universities of Stirling and Strathclyde conducted research into whether traditional toys are preferred by pre-school children. It was reported that technological toys in the homes of this age group were outnumbered 3:1 by traditional ones.

Whether technology will actually replace traditional toys for learning remains to be seen, but the obvious popularity of brands such as Lego, Playmobil and Sylvanian Families suggests that it will be a tall order. Maybe parents will see them as equal partners in keeping their children entertained, and interacting with society as a whole.

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