Public Comment

Commentary: The Serious Business of Play

By Stevanne Auerbach (aka Dr. Toy)
Friday December 22, 2006

Facing a barrage of advertising and marketing ploys, adults may exhibit some childish behavior when looking for kids’ toys. Have you ever been in a stampede for this year’s must-have game or plaything? With great places to find the right toys like—The Ark Toy Store, Sweet Dreams or Mr. Mopps, the challenge of finding the right toy is much simpler to solve for Berkeley residents. 

You can visit for more details on great products. Playthings made locally include Folkmanis, Pamela Drake Designs, Leap Frog, Tangle Toys, Peaceable Kingdom, and others. 

Selecting the best toy is not about what the “hot” toy is, but what is best for the children. Matching age, interests and abilities is paramount—as is recognizing the importance of play in everyone’s life. Playing with toys provides countless valuable experiences. Since play is the child’s “work,” what you provide to your child is essential, and is not based on how much you spend. There are many playful activities you can do with children that cost little or nothing: nature observing in Tilden Park or the waterfront, biking, walking, gardening, visiting libraries and much more. For a small fee you can enjoy Habitot, Lawrence Hall of Science, and other special places and events. 

Children gain an understanding of community and the world as they play with a fire truck, globe or maps. They learn to act productively with other children and adults when they play games, take turns and share toys. They learn to get and hold the attention of others in a suitable way when they use crafts, puppets or a yo-yo. They expand their ability to observe and concentrate using a construction set, kaleidoscope or puzzles. They practice other essential skills important for learning such as dexterity, eye-hand coordination, small and large motor skills when they play with toys that involve twisting, turning, hammering, pulling apart and putting together. 

Play helps your child expand natural curiosity, whet his or her ability to solve problems and foster spontaneity. These are central components of mastering learning. Playing with the right toys assists development for all ages. Everyone, regardless of age, needs time to play, to engage in something new and fun, that reduces stress and provides varied, new activities. 

Playing is a serious business—especially in how it reinforces the bond between adult and child. Before you buy a toy, observe your child at play. See what he or she enjoys doing, listen to what is desired and use your best judgment as to the value of the item. Finally, select at least one item on their “must have” list. Give the child plenty of time to play, and extend the play time with items you can add to their fun. Show the child how to use the plaything properly, but even more important, take time to play with your child and have fun together with a construction, creative project, game or puzzle. It’s beneficial when playtime is shared.  

The parent is the child’s first “big toy” and the most important plaything of all. The time you spend with the child is the “secret” ingredient for optimal play experiences. When you take the time to play checkers, construct a tower, assemble and fly a kite, play with a puppet or combine reading a story with the puppet, or make a doll house, you and your child are giving each other the greatest gift of all—laughter, joy and togetherness. For any family facing economic issues contact Toys for Tots in Alameda. All toys I evaluated every year are contributed to this terrific organization. Playful and peaceful year ahead for each and everyone 


Checklist on buying the best toy 

The mystery of finding the best toy is solved when you look for toys that offer the child balance between playthings that are active, creative and educational. Focus on the age, sex and interests of the child. The toy should fit the child and be worthy of their time and attention, and of your expenditure. 

Some shopping guidelines will assist you to select the best product: 

Is the toy safe? Toy must be tested by the manufacturer and by an independent laboratory. It must meet U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission Standards, and should be nontoxic and free of obvious hazards. 

Is it fun? The product should be appealing in color, shape and workmanship. It should amuse, delight and be enjoyable. 

Is it appropriate? The product should be test-marketed carefully by the manufacturer for the intended age group, and fit the child’s skills and abilities. Products too complex are easily frustrating. Toys too easy are boring. Items should have clear instructions so you and your child are guided to the best use by the designer and manufacturer. 

Is it well designed? The right materials should have been used to produce the product. The item should be durable, easy for the child to use and keep clean. It should also enable the child to expand his or her imagination and creativity. 

Is it durable? How long will the product last? Can you visualize the child playing with the product? Is it childproof? Playthings should be long lasting and not easily breakable. 

What is its play value? Find a product that has many different uses, one that helps the child express emotions and practice positive social interaction. Make sure the toy does not have any violent, sexist or other negative aspects, and that it helps expand self-esteem, understanding and cultural awareness. 


Stevanne Auerbach, Ph.D., “Dr. Toy,” is the director or the Institute of Childhood Resources, and is the author of Smart Play/Smart Toys: How to Raise a Child with a High P.Q. (Play Quotient). Visit for many resources on toys, play and parenting.