Headmaster, Robert Upton, writes a weekly blog post.

The most recent post is below and past posts can be found using the links on this page.

eagle eyes action man is captured ...

Toys are bad for children’s cognitive, social and emotional development. It appears that some people now regard toys as barriers to learning. Is it time to lock the toys away and really focus on a young child’s development with more mundane items such as boxes and train tickets?

What did you play with as a child? I loved my slinky, my clackers (two spheres on the end of string that clicked together above and below the handle when moved violently up and down) and my Tricky Trapeze animals. The latter swung over and over the bar when you squeezed the base. Just looking back at images online brings back so many memories. We may not appreciate how our toys influenced our education and how, over the years, toys continue to improve the abilities and skills children need to prepare them for life.

There is a nursery in Bristol which has recently swapped plastic toys for cardboard boxes and train tickets, claiming the move is not about depriving the children but challenging their play and learning experiences. Is this the best way to develop a child’s learning?

Children are extremely fast learners. Connections form within the brain and because children have the ability to take in large amounts of information, the number of connections in a young child's brain (particularly babies and toddlers) is far greater than those of an adult. Unlike adult brains which ignore irrelevant information, the developing brain takes in everything, and forms connections that are virtually useless. As the child develops, certain connections which are used more and more are strengthened and become more efficient. Essentially, the brain is a "use it or lose it" system.

As a result of their heightened ability to take in information, children are also extremely impressionable. Their early experiences have a significant, lasting impact on their cognitive and social development. Thus, realising the potential of the sensitive learning period is important to maximise the development of children's cognitive skills. Increasing exposure to learning early in a child's life can be accomplished even through choosing toys which promote development of cognitive skills.

Considering the amount of time children spend playing with toys, it seems odd that so little attention has been drawn to their contribution to development. The apparent disparity between girls’ and boys’ cognitive abilities in later years lasting into adulthood, especially concerning boys’ average higher aptitude for spatial and mathematical tasks or girls' talent for empathy and language, has not been linked excessively to the use of toys in early childhood.

Many theories of child development suggest that play is crucial to development. It impacts cognitive, social and emotional development, as well as language. Accepting that the type of toy could influence a child’s future career (which may be the focus of another post), surely removing all toys from children is going to be counter productive. At the Yateley Manor Nursery children start learning letters, numbers and language skills.  There are lots of toys that encourage this type of learning, from simple alphabet puzzles to high-tech electronic gadgets.

The toy industry is, to my knowledge, healthy although many these days do have an electronic element built in. Toys do not remove the creativity or imagination from children. Toys get children engaged in physical activity, by exercising their fine and gross motor skills. They help children express their emotions (internal and external) - the capacity to generate symbolical games reveals a mature personality, capable of creating rules of its own. Toys also motivate children to take initiative, learn to negotiate and teach them how to be better organised. Toys promote children´s cognitive development by stimulating their concentration and memory skills and developing their ability to solve problems creatively, which is key to their future autonomy.

It must be about balance; having a range of resources for children to explore and challenge their learning. Have we got the balance right at Yateley Manor? You only need to take a look into our Year 1 classrooms to see Mobilo, play tills and toy dogs alongside a space station made from paper plates and silver foil. On a Friday afternoon they even chose to use the weighing scales in their play!

Maybe there is still a place for Eagle Eyes……


Robert Upton