The surprising truth about “educational” toys

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Did your child just get lots of new toys for Christmas?

You should know that many of the toys being marketed as educational for young children actually interfere with learning and development. See the New York Times article at the link below.

How can you know what toys are best? Remember that young children learn best by observing others and exploring their environment.

If the child is doing most of the work in a learning activity,
it’s a good learning activity.
If the toy is doing most of the work, it’s interfering with learning.

Also know that cluttering your home with toys is likely to add a sense of chaos and unease for everyone. Children and adults alike are found to be less able to focus and learn in cluttered environments.

Toddlers benefit from having small-sized tools for caring for the environment– brooms, dust pans, watering cans, dish bins or a stool to get up to the sink. They love to organize things, like matching tops to bottoms among the pots and pans.

Protect your child’s living and learning space–and yours, too!  Make sure there is a place for everything and make it a habit to keep things in their places. This is much easier if there’s not an excessive amount of stuff. Donate excess toys to Goodwill, especially the electronic toys that do the work for them.

Let your young child direct their learning as much as possible. Notice that young children are mostly interested in working at the things older people are able to do. Their self-motivated drive to become capable people will guide them. They will watch you a lot and want to do what you’re doing.

The primary “toys” that benefit a toddler are toddler-sized tools to participate in self-care, care of the environment, and meal preparation.

Think twice about characterizing this work as precious and meaningless. Toddlers may look cute doing these activities, but it is serious work for them. In their efforts to learn to do these daily life activities, they can develop a lot of important capabilities, including eye-hand coordination, concepts such as sequencing, and self-control. Doing this work allows the young child to achieve very important brain development that will help them succeed in life.

Montessori teachers don’t laugh and exclaim about how cute the young child is doing this work. To them, it would be no different than their supervisor laughing at how cute they are playing at teaching.  It’s clear, too, that the young children in the Montessori classroom feel highly respected and very safe to explore and learn.

When we respect the young child’s native intelligence and support their natural learning drives, young children much more and become more capable, confident, considerate and responsible. Don’t let yourself be sold on all the “educational” gadgets out there.

Have you ever noticed your young child “playing” for a long time with something simple? What was your child learning through that play?

by Ginny Trierweiler, Ph.D., the High Regard Parent Coach


This entry was posted in Child Development, early childhood, parenting, Toddlers and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The surprising truth about “educational” toys

  1. Leah Davies says:

    Ginny, thank you for expressing your WISE words so clearly! I agree with your comment, “If the child is doing most of the work in a learning activity, it’s a good learning activity. If the toy is doing most of the work, it’s interfering with learning.” Thank you for sharing your suggestions. My grandchildren played by stacking cans by size, sorting silverware, cutting out all the things that are a certain color or in a category like, food, clothing, toys, etc. and pasting them on paper. Young children do NOT need iPads or phones. They need to watch an adult in their life be active and one who INTERACTS with his or her child. For more ideas, see: “The 8 L’s of Parenting,” at:

    • admin says:

      Leah and Kelly Bear– Thanks for your message.

      I love, love, love your 8 L’s! Especially 3. LISTEN, without judgment; 4.LAUGH with your child, not at him or her; and 5.LABOR diligently and with pride so that your child will want to work hard, persevere and do his or her best.

      We think alike! How can I follow your blog? You can follow mine by liking my Facebook page at

      Do stay in touch. Warm regards, Ginny

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