TIMPANI'S Best Toys for 2013

Publication Date: 
December 5, 2013

WILLIMANTIC — Classic and straight-forward toys are most the likely to engage children, according to Eastern Connecticut State University’s 2013 TIMPANI Best Toy survey. For the fifth year Eastern’s Center for Early Children Education evaluated toys and on Wednesday offered its findings.  In the past, it has chosen one TIMPANI (Toy that Inspires Mindful Play and Nurtures Imagination) Best Toy each year.

This year, two won the title. Magna Tiles and My First Railway had “nearly identical scores” according to a press release.  The tiles, made by Valtech!, are plastic magnetic shapes in a variety of colors. Brio produces the set of wooden tracks  and trains.  “Lots of toys are in demand, because they’ve been made popular by marketing, however not all of them engage a child,” principal investigator Jeffrey Trawick-Smith said. “Our studies have shown that the electronic toys that light up and make sound are initially attractive to children, but their appeal is short-lived.”

The study began five years ago as a tool to discover toys that incorporate intellectual, creative and social interactions in children ages 3 to 5.
“We know from research that they learn most during play,” research coordinator Julia DeLapp said. “Ninety percent of kids play with toys, and we make assumptions on what we think they want and need, so we wanted to look at how much and what they learn from what they are playing with.”

Toys were nominated by parents, teachers and researchers throughout the country and selected by an advisory committee based on their set criteria.
According to DeLapp, “the advisory screen makes sure that the toys fit the model of age appropriateness and gender sensitivity,” and based on their standards
“no battery operated toys are used.”

Nine toys were studied and placed in classrooms at the Center for Early Childhood Education at the college. Every three days the toys were swapped, and the
children’s interactions were secretly documented by hidden video cameras and microphones. “The most amazing part was coming to work and not knowing what would happen,” said Chamari Davis, a student researcher majoring in sociology and early childhood education. “It is so intriguing to watch these kids in their classrooms, because they come up with brilliant things with their imagination.”

Lead preschool teacher Amy Tyler shared Davis’ reaction to watching her students play. “These toys are fabulous,” she said. “My favorite is watching them with the tiles. There aren’t a whole lot of pieces that come with the set, and one of the boys ran out of squares for his house. Seeing him realize he could make a square out of triangles just proved the benefits, because he was problem-solving.”

The complete survey will be published in research and practitioner journals soon. More information, including videos, may be found at www.easternct.edu/cece