Rethinking Child's Play
In This Article:
Alternatively, the more children flit from activity to activity and from toy to toy and their play involves mimicking and imitating someone else's behaviors and scripts, the less likely they are to develop the full range of positive skills and attitudes that creative play can provide.
Many factors in the environment influence how children play--how much time they have for play, the experiences they have that provide the content for their play, the attitudes of adults toward their play and what adults do to promote it, the role of television and other media in their lives, AND the nature of the toys they use in their play.
When children do have time to play, they often choose to watch television instead --- an average of four hours a day --- not to mention the additional time they spend watching videotapes or playing video games. But of all the factors affecting play today, few have had a more worrisome impact than changes in toys in the past decade or so.
Changes in Toys
Toys have a very big influence on play. Some toys tend to promote higher quality play than others. Multi-purpose and unstructured toys, like clay, blocks, generic toy figures and baby dolls, encourage play that children can control and shape to meet their individual needs over time. Highly structured or realistic toys, like action figures based on TV programs and/or movies, as well as many video games, can have the opposite effect. They "tell" children how to play and can channel them into playing particular themes in particular ways --- merely using the toys to try to imitate what they see on the TV or movie screen. Most of today's best-selling toys fit the highly-structured, media-linked side of things.
This phenomenon of media-linked toys arose very dramatically in 1984 when children's television was deregulated by the Federal Communications Commission. Deregulation made it legal to market toys to children through TV programs for the first time. Almost immediately, and ever since, whole toy lines of realistic replicas of what children see on the screen have appeared. Television shows, and increasingly movies too, are made to sell toys and other products to children. Often, what is frustrating to parents and children alike is that while the age recommendation on the toy box is for children as young as ages 4 or 5, the show connected to the toy has a rating for much older children.
To the extent children's toy shelves become dominated by these highly-structured toys, their play and learning can suffer. Still worse, because many of the most popular shows linked to toys have violent themes, like the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, World Wrestling Federation, and Star Wars, what children are often channeled into imitating is violence.
More on: Imaginative Play