SEATTLE - Washington parents are in the home stretch for Christmas shopping, and if you're looking for gifts for preschoolers, the experts suggest steering clear of high-tech toys, particularly for children under age 5. Those ads for baby's first computer, make-believe cell phone or other battery-powered gizmos can be tempting. But Joan Almon, executive director of the Alliance for Childhood, urges parents and grandparents to think, not about what the toy can do - but what it prompts the child to do.
"You want play materials that are 90 percent 'child' and only ten percent 'defined' - meaning if a toy is really defined, as most electronic and battery-operated toys are today, there is very little room for the child's own imagination."
According to Dana Friedman, president of the Early Years Institute, the basic principle is, less is more. Before immersing younger children in the digital world of computers and high-tech gadgets, she says it's important to first let them develop and use their creativity.
"In most cases, a toy that uses technology is one-directional. It is a program that says, 'If you do this, then you're going to get this result.' But this is not experimentation, this is not imagination; this is not what you want little minds to be doing."
This year, parents have to get a little creative, too, to avoid gifts with screens that kids can stare at. One suggestion is a book of colorful coupons, each good for things like a trip to the ice cream store, a bike ride or special play date with a parent - activities that allow adults to spend quality time with the children in their lives.