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Toys that teach may be money down the drain.

Byline: By SAM BURSON Western Mail

Parents may be wasting their money on educational toys for their children, experts have warned. Swedish researchers believe cardboard boxes and watering cans are just as useful for learning as the specialist items for which parents are increasingly forking out.

The director of the International Toy Research Centre in Stockholm has accused the booming toy industry of exploiting parents wanting to 'hothouse' their children's intelligence.

In a book due out next month he says, 'The toy industry give parents the impression that their children will have a head start if they play with their product, but there is no scientific proof to these claims.'

About pounds 360m is spent each year on toys for babies and toddlers, including electronic books and computer software. Many manufacturers claim their specialist products can boost skills including dexterity, language, and shape and colour recognition.

But Mr Svensson said, 'Toys don't teach cognitive or motor skills. They just encourage children to practise them.

'You can make a complex toy that forces children to manipulate them in a certain way, but children can learn just as much from repeatedly taking the lid off a shoe box and putting it back on again.'

Dr Alex Morgan, from the University of Wales Swansea's Department of Children's Studies, agreed that some parents were throwing away money on expensive educational toys.

She said, 'No parent is ever going to be able to say that, 'My child learned to be bilingual because of a LeapPad'.

'You can't fork out for toys like that and expect them to teach children by themselves.

'They are very fast and responsive, but also very limited. If you don't tell it what page you are on, all you get is gibberish.

'The best way for children to learn is with interaction with adults and other children.

'Games like peek-a-boo and playing shop are great examples of that kind of learning.'

Another Welsh expert warned some of us were so terrified of our child being left behind we were stifling creativity with educational toys.

Dr Ioan Rees, director of therapy training organisation Sycol, said although many toys were sophisticated, they were still very rigid in how they taught children to play.

He said, 'Many educational toys have very limited outcomes, which can limit a child's imagination.

'What children learn from playing with things like boxes or watering cans is all about how things can go in, under, over and through.

'They experiment and discover a great deal about the world around them by themselves - about risk taking and spatial skills. But parents are worrying too much about reading and counting, so their children's play agenda can become very adult-led.

He added, 'Parents just need to relax and to have more faith in their children.'

Tracy Powell, manager of the Early Learning Centre in St David's Arcade, Cardiff, said there was nothing wrong with educational toys as long as they were part of normal playing.

However she said, 'Some parents feel peer pressure, and that if their friends' child has a toy, they don't want to risk having their own fall behind.

'But many of them form part of the school curriculum, so they are extremely useful.

'The main thing about any toy is that it has to be fun.

'There is a trend at the moment for more old-fashioned toys like spinning tops and wooden trains, which parents remember enjoying when they were young.

'It's often grandparents who tend to buy the more educational toys.': Top educational toys at the Early Learning Centre:Magnetic numbers and letters Hardly a new idea, but still one of the best-selling learning devices. Seen on most family fridges. From pounds 5 per set Learning clock or watch There is a 'quarter past' written at the number three and 'half past' at the number six to help children learn to tell the time.

From pounds 10

Incentive chart

Magnetic stars which can be awarded to a child to encourage good behaviour or learning.

From pounds 6

LeapPad learning system

A talking book which can be 'read' using a special pen which points at the words.

From pounds 30

LeapPad maths

The same principle, but with an emphasis on teaching numeracy skills. From pounds 9.60
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Sep 27, 2005
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