Hands-On Toys | AAP’s New Recommendation

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Hands-On Toys vs High-Tech Toys| AAP’s Latest Recommendation

Hands down, Hands-On toys is the winner. If you have been following my blog you know I’m a big supporter of introducing STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) into a child’s curriculum as early as possible. With that said, technology does have it’s downfalls if introduced too soon and/or if overused. The question is:

When is it considered too soon to introduce technology into our youngsters’ lives?

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), children should not have any screen time from 0 to 24 months. For children 2 years and older, screen time should be limited to only 1 hour a day and adult supervision is recommended. Video games, computer games, television, and computer use, all fall under the category of screen time.

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Yes, unfortunately even television (our best entertainer and babysitter we, as parents desperately need to get some chores done), is not recommended.  And many might be asking this very simple question:


According to Dr. Aleeya Healey, MD, FAAP, no Video Game, Educational App, Show or Cartoon, can match the brain development that takes place when a child experiences real human interaction. Human interaction during playtime with Hands-On toys is unmatched.

The AAP report just published on 12/3/2018 is something I’ve been saying, advocating, and implementing for years with my own kids, and at times, at the expense of being ridiculed by others.

You might laugh, but when going to Dr. appointments up to only a year ago, I brought with us a Bead Maze to keep my younger children (0-3yrs) entertained. We have now evolved and are bringing coloring and sticker books for all 3 of them. Yes, my kids were not (and still aren’t) part of the “cool kids” High-Tech group.

While many kids their age have smartphones loaded with the latest apps and games for years now, our 8-year-old (and younger brothers) have been “Tech-less”. Only a few months ago he received his very first Amazon kids’ tablet (a gift from his uncle), but he’s not allowed to freely play with it, and here is why.

We sporadically use Technology as an aid, not as a replacement for Hands-On toys and human interaction playtime.

No, this doesn’t mean we make our kids live in stone age times😊. It is my belief STEM is everywhere around us, and embracing it from a young age will help our kids stay on par with the world’s future growth. However, in doing so we have managed to still keep technology to a minimum. How?

By giving preference to Hands-On toys that help our kids develop their Critical, Strategic, Problem-Solving Thinking skills.
In my Best 10 Educational/STEM Gift Ideas I list and review many Hands-On toys, we use to help develop these skills while keeping kids engaged without any screen time. (With the exception of Stop Motion Explosion 2.0).

Yes, our almost 9-year-old is not allowed to play with his tablet as he pleases and if it was my choice he wouldn’t even have one yet🤷‍♂️. Since the kids’ tablet was a gift, we found ways to integrate it into their life without becoming slaves of it. Here is how we include technology in our everyday life without allowing it to take over our children’s social interactions and physical activity.

  1. Using a Multiplication app to practice times tables.
  2. Using the AAS Tile app during our Spelling lessons.
  3. Using the Timer app for various test.
  4. Using a skeleton app to practice recognizing our body’s bones.
  5. Daily 15-minutes typing practice.

Avoiding Digital Toys and Gaming is not an easy task these days. We are bombarded by many companies labeling almost everything they make as being “Educational”, but the AAP is basically telling us: Less is More.

So what Hands-On toys are a good alternative to Hi-Tech?

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has published an updated clinical report to help guide parents and physicians pick ideal toys for young children.

In this report, the co-author Dr. Alan Mendelsohn mentions how kids can simply use a cardboard box to play and help develop their creative and imaginative skills. As I read this I realized, my 8-year-old son garbage picking through my cardboard recycling bins for months now and building all sorts of contraptions was actually Dr’s orders!!!🤣

All jokes aside, we spend so much money on toys for our children. If I had to add it all up, we could probably be living on a beachfront property after 9 years of buying toys for our 3 boys and the funny part is…

Our kids almost prefer to break apart our discarded boxes, recycle our bottles and cups to build scenarios they have in their minds.

From a Jelly Fish made of a coffee filter and gift bag tissue paper, a car wash made of cardboard box and string, to a fort built out of cardboard box and 2 cookie boxes for its towers, all to protect French soldiers from the English.😍 It doesn’t get any more Hands-On than this!!😉

I believe my children’s creativity and imagination comes from many years playing with Hands-on toys we have been buying even before this latest AAP clinical report was updated. I’ve said it before and I’ll repeat it, a Mother’s instinct for what’s best for her children is unbeatable and this is just another confirmation of the many choices we have made.

The Best Hands-On toys for toddlers that worked for us?

(We have a few staples in our house. Here is a list with their links).

  • Bead Maze Cube. Oh how long my middle child could sit there and play with his big bead maze cube! One of the best gifts his Nani could of given him. Sometimes I wonder if he’s such a quick learner because of the endless hours he has spent brainstorming over that toy. While only God knows, what I do know is that skills like visual, tactile, problem solving and many more are practiced while playing with this toy. “Elove Wooden Activity Cube” and “Anatex Deluxe Mini Play Cube” are my top picks.

Links to 3 of my favorite Bead Mazes. 

  • Mega Bloks sets. All 3 of our kids have played with these colorful interlocking blocks. Made in the perfect size for small children’s hands and mouths (as they are too big to pose a choking hazard). Playing with these blocks is a great way to help initiate young kids’ imagination while also developing many thinking and motor skills.

 Link to our Mega Blocks set.

  • Melissa and Doug Wooden Peg Puzzles. We had almost every one of these puzzles: Alphabet, Numbers, Farm Animals, Ocean Animals, Shapes, you name it, and they are phenomenal! While matching and placing each peg back into its space, toddlers are developing many skills as Hand-eye coordination, fine motor, cognitive, and problem-solving skills. I highly recommend buying the wire rack to store up to 12 of these puzzles, as it could get pretty messy and easy to lose pieces without it.

Links to wooden peg-puzzles and wire rack. Melissa & Doug‘s are THE BEST!

  • Water Drawing Mat. A neighbor gifted me with this and my kids have played with it since they were 2 years old all the way up to 6! This Drawing mat uses water pens allowing kids to use their imagination without parents having to worry about the mess! Kids are also fascinated by how the water pen makes their drawing appear almost as if it was magic! This is a fun and inexpensive way to unlock your child’s imagination and creativity!

 Link to the Water Drawing Mat.

  • One Two Squeeze Baby Blocks. & B. Toys Elemenosqueeze A to Z Architectural blocks. Back to Basics just like the AAP recommends! Yes, believe it or not, as a baby I used to play with these same style blocks and when my boys were born my mom passed them along and I highly recommend them. Both sets of these soft blocks are BPA and phthalates free, squeezy, squeaky, and chewable, perfect for those small little baby hands and mouths. These blocks are colorful, promoting hand-eye coordination, and each being hand-sculptured stimulates the youngest visual and tactile senses. One set includes all square blocks meant mostly for stacking, where the other set includes different shape blocks kids can use to build different masterpieces.

Links to Squeezable baby blocks. BATTAT toys are made from NON TOXIC materials! 

  • Light-Up Ring Stacker. Another blast from the past and another favorite of my 2nd born child. The variety of colors and textures promote tactile development, while the lights and sounds played while stacking the rings stimulates visual and auditory senses. This simple but classic toy is a great way to promote the development of Fine Motor skills like hand-eye coordination. Hands-On at its finest!

 Link to Light-Up Ring Stacker. Our son was mesmerized by this toy.

Best Hands-On Toys for Kids 5+ years old.

(Here is a list of our favorite Tech-Free/  Hands-On toys and its correspondent links).

  • LEGOs. Do I really need to say more? I’ve lost count of how many Lego sets we own and I’ll keep buying them because the benefits of building LEGOs are endless. Building Lego sets helps kids to learn the importance of how following directions, being organized, and being patient. On the other hand, building using LEGO Classic Creative Box promotes creativity, by kids experimenting to build things using their own imagination. We also found the “LEGO Awesome Ideas” book is a great pairing with the Classic Yellow LEGO box. My son can build anything he imagines by trial and error since he was 7 years old, and all the skills involved in doing so will serve him well in many other areas.

Links to Lego Classic & Lego Ideas Book.

  • Lincoln Logs. Just like Legos, while kids build using Lincoln Logs they will also be building their divergent thinking, spatial reasoning, motor skills, creativity, and the list goes on. Although Lincoln Logs could be used at age 3+, my kids didn’t really care for them at that age other than disseminating them all over the floor. From my experience, I recommend Mega Blocks for younger kids and then introducing Lincoln Logs later on. For our kids, Lincoln Logs really started to make sense around 5-6 years old.

 Link to Lincoln Logs.

  • Chess. By regularly playing chess, kids develop and practice many Critical Thinking Skills all while improving their cognitive abilities.  From the beginning, while learning how to identify the different chess pieces and their allowed directions of movement, players practice and improve their memory skills. Once kids begin to play the game and strategize on how to take their opponent’s king and not fall under attack themselves, they are practicing their strategic and logic thinking skills. The game of Chess is a great way to keep kids off the screen while helping their minds grow.

Link to Chess Board Game Set Link to Solitaire Chess Game. (Great for beginner players).

  • Rush Hour. Drs, Speech-Language Pathologists and Occupational Therapist, all recommend and use this game with their own patients. Rush Hour is a single player game and the goal is to get the red car out of the traffic jam. It might not sound like much to do, but this requires a lot of visual-spacial planning and thinking. Many times kids are overcome by frustration when trying to solve a puzzle or math problem and playing the Rush Hour game might help! All valuable skills needed when problem-solving are practiced while playing which aids in developing their Strategic Thinking skills, Memory and Perseverance.

Links to “Rush Hour” & “Rush Hour Deluxe”. We have and love the deluxe version.

  • Managing my Allowance, Monopoly, Game of Life. Both of these board games are great to help kids learn some basic money skills while spending some quality time together with family. We all know Monopoly is based upon real-estate, but how about the Managing my Allowance game? While playing this board game, kids will even practice how to save for college, all while managing their allowance by earning, purchasing, and computing change. The player that saved the most by scoring the best sale price, and has the most money deposited in their account wins the game! I like to call it, the modern and more realistic Monopoly Game. Game of Life is our kids favorite. 😉

Links to our 3 Favorite Board Games!

In Conclusion, Don’t Forget the Outdoors!

Outdoor activity will give any child the best Hands-On activity they could ask for while getting a healthy dose of Vitamin D! Riding a bike, kicking a ball, making a sand castle, pushing a car around, they all teach kids many motor skills all while having good ol’ fun! Getting a good dose of sunshine promotes healthy cell and bone growth, reduces inflammation, and helps to stimulate immune function, so don’t forget to get outside and have some fun, Dr’s orders!

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The Great Outdoors!

Proverbs 15:30

The light of the eyes rejoices the heart, and good news refreshes the bones.

Hands-On Toys
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2 thoughts on “Hands-On Toys | AAP’s New Recommendation”

  1. Oh I totally agree with this! Wish there were more articles like this. Perhaps it’s because TV is so easy. I feel parents kindof know they shouldn’t be letting their kids watch so much media, but it’s an easy babysitting choice. And then after a while the child is addicted to it and you’re addicted to the free babysitter! It’s a vicious circle.
    Thanks Juno and Steve.

    • Hi Rebecca,
      it’s a vicious cycle indeed!
      When I first read the AAP Report I felt so inspired to write this article, it literally poured out of me. We’ve been trying to hold-off introducing Hi-Tech gadgets to our children for as long as we can. Even as adults we didn’t even join the smartphone world until 2013! For how great they are, they do take away all kind of human interaction and the scary part is, our society is becoming used to it. Reading the AAP report was a confirmation to all my thoughts and parenting style and I hope their message travels far and fast.🙏

      Thank you for reading Rebecca and for your kind words,

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