Finding Balance in a Hi-Tech World

Posted on April 5, 2017

By: Lydia Bryant, CTRS

As an inclusive play specialist at the National Lekotek Center, I adapt and modify toys and play for children with special needs and their families. Any parent or professional who works with children has seen a rise in the use of technology in toys and play. We have seen the same rise in the special needs play space. The use of technology in early intervention and therapy mirrors trends in technology used in the classroom. Students use tablets or laptops instead of jotting notes in a notebook. Many toy companies have focused on creating hi-tech gadget toys for younger and younger kids. The newest trend in both educational and play products is teaching the processes that make these innovations possible. We hear words like STEM, coding and robotics in the education and therapy community very often. For many parents and educators these terms are unfamiliar. What exactly do they mean and why are they important for kids of all abilities?

Children growing up today will learn to manipulate electronics, robotic elements, and computers, the same way children 100 years ago learned to manipulate physical objects with simple mechanics (slope, lever, pulley, etc.). This is why educational and therapeutic institutions are becoming more focused on science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Throughout history, the way we play changes the way adults in our life, live. We have all been impressed with how easily toddlers can manipulate smartphones, remote controls, tablets and computers. In addition, there seems to be a certain fascination with technology, which engages the child in play. Even though there has been an evolution in the world of play, the inherent benefits of play in early childhood development remain the same. We must find a balance between “old-fashioned” play experiences and technology that will be relevant and interesting for the child.

So, how do toy trends in technology affect us in the disability community? As I stated above, it is important for all children to experience this hi-tech evolution of play, even if a child who has a special need may be delayed in areas of their development. Less advanced gadgets are seen in adaptive toys, battery interrupted, and switch activated toys. These toys open up the world of play and discovery to many children with developmental delays, who may not otherwise be able to access play. At Lekotek, we use what kids love as tools to help them develop and thrive in all areas. We live in an ever-growing technologically advanced society, where we find technology too often used as a motivator for children in therapy and education. Moving forward, parents and professionals can use technology to motivate children to learn and develop through play. Developing a balance between technology and traditional play is essential to create a beneficial play experience.

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