Health Watch -- Toys for Brainy Tots

Health Watch is a Public Service of the  Office of News and Publications and is intended to provide general information only and should not replace the advice of a medical professional. You should contact your physician if you have questions about any of these topics.

Do "educational" toys really do any good?

At this time of year, parents face a big dilemma: Do they buy their kids the fun toys they want, or do they buy educational toys that will help their children learn? Doctors at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas say it really doesn't have to be a dilemma. Any toy can be educational if you use it the right way.

Dr. Pete Stavinoha, a child neuropsychologist at UT Southwestern, says it isn't the blinking lights, sounds or sophisticated programming that makes a toy educational for a child. It's the interaction the toy promotes. When parents play with a child and talk to the child about the toy, and if the toy lets the child use his or her imagination, that toy can become an educational tool.

While there are a lot of gadgets available now that promise to teach children reading, spelling and math skills, some old stand-bys can also be great educational tools. Crayons and watercolor paints let children unleash their creativity and stretch their imagination. Building blocks help children learn to deal with frustration. If the blocks fall down, the child has to learn how to recover from failure and start all over again. That's much more of a life lesson than hitting the reset button on a video game.

The important thing is to participate with your children. Play with them. Talk to them about what you're doing, and encourage them to talk to you about the game they're playing.