How toys help develop mental skills

The holiday season is a wonderful time for children to develop mental acumen when they acquire a new array of gifts for hands-on activities with caring adults. It is a time to develop new vocabulary, dexterity, and inventiveness without worrying about competition against peers for grades or social status.

Good parents and grandparents will buy and read books and some may purchase and play musical instruments with a beloved child. Others take time to play checkers or chess and even spend hours putting together a jigsaw puzzle with younger family members. Depending on the weather, sleds or bicycles may provide an excuse for getting outside for active fun together.

As a teacher I have always been inclined to be suspicious of gadgets that toy companies sell to well-meaning parents who discover that their gifts do not survive ten minutes after the kid opens the box. However, I now believe that even some of the digital wonders that fly off the store shelves can be great teaching tools if parents take time to be engaged in the learning process with their children.

Even a three-inch, square plastic drone can be a learning tool. If they learn nothing else, they are exposed to new vocabulary. In the directions kids see chemistry vocabulary such as alkaline batteries, electrostatic discharge, and lithium polymer [LIPo] batteries. These words may appear later in science textbooks, and words like acceleration, altitude, and throttle bring engineering words into practical application. STEM subject vocabulary is only one advantage of playing with toy drones. Such experiences may lead to future jobs for students who will be looking for jobs in the digital age. It is always necessary for parents and teachers to remember that the world has changed since we were in school. New technologies have new practical applications.

Drones have become an interest of mine since we used a drone to check out the top of a chimney at Kump Education Center this fall. A photography drone stood very still 85 feet up in the air and took accurate pictures down four chimney pipes that stood three stories above the furnace room. When our heating contractor shined a flashlight up the passage where he hoped to put the boiler vents, the drone caught the gleam of the light, and he knew that the largest passage was the one where the venting pipes should go out through the chimney. Then we were ready to hire a cherry picker boom truck for the task of feeding the pipes down through the chimney.

Even small drones have peaceful and practical purposes on construction jobs.