Friday, April 25, 2014

Why I buy boring toys.

Imagine for a moment this is your work environment: You have an office chair with a trampoline under it which leads to constant bouncing. Alternatively, you can opt for one that has constant vibration. Pinatas the size of your head are swinging down from all angles. Strange mechanical music is playing on repeat, mixed with the voices of your coworkers carrying on conversations. To finish it off, you have a few disco lights that flash different colors.

And you are expected to work. You must productively absorb and process material coming in from all directions. How do you feel about this? A little overwhelmed? I know I am.

We do this to our kids all the time.

The office scenario is how I imagine these toys are processed by young children. When I was completing my baby registry, I tried to imagine things from Nicolas's point of view. As you can imagine, a baby is going to be significantly more overwhelmed by their environment. The reality is, infants in particular need less stimulation than adults. After all, they have spent their entire lives living in a dark, quiet place.

When picking out toys and baby gear for my home, I try to follow this rule:
If it looks boring, it's probably perfect. 
We know that kids learn through play. They cannot multi-task. Actually, numerous research studies show that adults cannot multi-task either. At around four months old infants begin to develop cross-modal perception (Fogel, 2011). Which is the ability to understand that more than one sense--whether it be sight, touch, taste, hearing, or smell--go together. An example of this is when you lean over to a child and speak to them. They are hearing and seeing you at the same time. Cross-modal perception is the ability for them to understand that you are just one thing, even though you are coming at them from two senses.

While they are refining this ability, it important that we do not bombard them with too much sensory stimulation all at once. They need calm space to focus and engage carefully with items that stimulate one, maybe two senses at a time. This is how they learn, engage, and process the world. Next time you have the opportunity, crawl under one of those baby activity gyms and lay on your back to see what I mean.

Fogel, A. (2011). Infant development: A topical approach. Cornwell-on-Hudson, NY: Sloan Publishing.