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How a Variety of Toys for Playtime Benefits Toddler Development

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If your household toy philosophy is “The more, the better,” turns out you've got science on your side. A new study finds that when given a choice of toys, kids engage in more healthy physical activity.

A University of Buffalo research team found that kids given a choice of three toys to play with experienced a 95 percent increase in activity, but there was no such uptick when there was just one toy option. The key, say researchers, is offering kids a variety of toys that encourage movement, such as mini-basketballs or jump ropes. “And we found that girls can be motivated to engage in the same amount of physical activity as boys simply by giving them a greater choice of active toys,” says lead study author Denise Feda, Ph.D.

Toys—not just sports or educational toys—have other benefits, too. “They increase language skills, help kids express emotions, and relieve anxiety,” says Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, Ph.D., a leading expert on the value of play and director of the Temple University Infant Language Laboratory, in Philadelphia. “We all learn best when active and engaged, and play is a perfect metaphor for that.”

OK, time to hit the mall! But wait—it seems there's a difference between variety and overload. “If you find your child is distracted during play or doesn't know what to choose, scale back,” advises Hirsh-Pasek.