Experts weigh in on the best educational toys for kids this holiday season

ABILENE, Texas - Are the most popular toys the best for your child's development?

According to experts, some of the best toys for children don't have screens attached to them.

According to Margaret Richins of the Region 14 Education Service Center, the best toys to give your little ones this Christmas are those that can be used in many ways and require your child to problem solve and use his or her imagination.

"Like blocks, building materials, pretend things like kitchens with dishes and toys and baby dolls, dress up clothes," Richins said.

Play-Doh is one of Richin's favorites.

"Children love it," she said. "It's fun, but if you have a child that's struggling with particular skills, you can use it to teach skills, too. You can roll out snakes and make letters. You can count out how many cookies you've made, you can add and subtract," she said.

There's a bonus for parents for buying toys like these.

"They will grow with your child, so you can buy it this year," Richins said. "It's not one of those toys that's going to be in the bottom of the closet tomorrow."

You'll notice none of Richin's suggestions are electronic; she said to nix the screen time.

"It's not the same as real objects," Richins said. "The younger the child is, the more hands-on and real it has to be for the brain to make connections."

"Children aren't just an empty vessel that you pour information into," she added. "They have to act on their environment in order to create those connections in the brain."

Richins said the very best way children learn is by spending quality time with their families.

"So carve out some time during the Christmas holidays when you can play a board game, read to your child, have a tea party," she said.

"Give and take is how children's brains develop," she said.

Even though they're not toys, per se, Richin's top recommendation for gifts that encourage learning are books.

She said the children who are the best readers are the ones who have been read to.

Richins recommends getting a library card in your child's name - that way, they can take ownership of their reading and enjoy acting "grown up."

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