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What was your favourite childhood toy?

And how do Dinky and Matchbox cars, Barbie and Sindy Dolls and Cabbage Patch Kids stack up against today's high-tech toys, and what's more do parents these days know how to play with their children?

Do you remember Hula Hoops, wooden stacking blocks and Dinky Toys? If so, you were no doubt a child of the 50s. Or how about Etch-a sketch, Spirograph, and Sindy dolls for those kids of the 60s?

If you were a child of the 70s then you probably spent your time playing with Action Man figures and Space Hoppers and if you grew up in the 80s it was Cabbage Patch Kids, Transformers, My Little Ponies and Star Wars paraphernalia.

Children of the 90s are likely to have fond memories of Tamagotchis, TeleTubbies dolls and Tickle Me Elmos and while many of these toys and those from decades ago are still popular today, many have become obsolete as the computer revolution has well and truly taken hold of the younger generations.

But which toys will always stand the test of time and why? And which toys were just passing fads never to be seen again, while others have undergone countless modifications and comebacks to stand up to today's kid's standards? And would kids actually benefit from having a good old play session with a few of the old fashioned toys loved by previous generations?

Well, according to new research released today by Galt Toys, more than 40% of us have kept our favourite childhood toy, game, book or teddy and 75% have shared them with our child or grandchild.  Would you share yours?  We would love to hear what you have to say about this so please pop by to our discussion forums and join us for a chat.

And it seems many of us are in favour of bringing back toys of old, with only a quarter of parents believing today's TV, films, electronic and interactive games are a good alternative to traditional play and toys, while 30% would like to encourage their kids to play more with traditional games and toys and less with electronic and gaming gadgets.

However, the research shows many parents rely on these high-tech toys to keep their kids amused with well over a quarter admitting they put on a DVD instead of playing with their children, close to one in five put them in front of the games console and one in six give them a smart phone or tablet to play with.

The average parent spends just under an hour a day playing with their kids, but it seems many suffer from 'play amnesia' and find it difficult to remember how they used to play naturally. Two thirds of parents surveyed by Galt Toys, don't think they are as good as playing with their kids as they would like to be, while 40% even feel self-conscious when playing. 

Only around 50% of parents believe they are as good at being a parent as their own parents were to them, but could this crisis of confidence be down to the toys our kids are now playing with and could parents do well to bring out a few of their old favourite toys to jog their memories on the joy of playing?

Having had Dr Miriam Stoppard's pregnancy book as our Bible for the whole of our pregnancy (just before the internet took hold) I have a very special torch for what she has to say. 

Following is the interview.  It makes very interesting reading.  We would love to hear what you have to say about this so please pop by to our discussion forums and join us for a chat.

miriam stoppard

H: Danielle Robinson Ė Webchat Host

A: Dr Miriam Stoppard Ė British Doctor, Author & Television Presenter

H: New research shows that many parents rely on high tech toys to keep their children entertained.  Joining us now is Dr Miriam Stoppard with two children, four step children and eleven grandchildren Miriam has played with a fair few toys.  So Miriam what did the report revel about how parents play with their children?

A: Well I think they are not doing too badly actually because a high percentage of parents want to play with their children and do manage it.  They would like to play more of course, they realise that they are falling a little bit short but they do believe that playing is more important than, for instance, children watching television or films or playing with electronic games and they are right because when asked children of five or six will always say that what their favourite activity is and thatís playing with mum and dad.  So I think parents are probably a bit shy about playing with their children, they donít have a lot of confidence about what they are doing when they play with their children but what they must understand is that it is extremely important because nothing benefits a baby, a toddler and a child more than playing interactively with their mum or their dad.

H: Do you think parents ever beat themselves up a bit about not having enough time with their children?

A: Well I think they do.  I think they feel so rushed with the lives that they are leading they donít have a lot of spare time and when they do have spare time they are very tired, so they are stressed over worked and the time spent with children is squeeze out it should be the other way around actually because nothing benefits a child more than interaction with their parents, especially playing because to a child, especially in the first and second years playing is really hard work and the child is learning so much during that first year.  Itís a kind of explosion of learning.  Every time a baby plays and this means playing interactively not on its own, every time a baby plays it thinks and every time it thinks it grows half a million bran connections per second.  So you are helping your babyís brain to develop and grow every time you play.  Every time you get down on the floor and thatís the way to play and make eye contact with your child to talk a lot about what you are doing, to describe the toy and if parents are feeling a bit shy about their ability to do that they should follow their instincts.  Every parent wants to play with their child.  Get down on the floor and do it.  The key I think is to talk.  You are teaching your child speech while you are talking anyway you are teaching your child about the dynamics of conversation while you are talking, particularly if you ask questions. 

Letís say you are playing with a duck in the bath just start describing the duck.  ĎHereís a little duck and the duck is yellow and the duck floats on the water and ducks go quack, quack, quack and ducks have orange beaks.í  The child is absorbing this information like a sponge long before it can talk it is absorbing this information and if you do actions to it as well, Ďlook the duck is swimming on the surface of the bath!í You only have to do that three times the next time you are in the bath and you say to your baby, eight or nine months old, what does the duck do?  The baby will pick up the duck and start splashing it in the water.  Just think about what your baby has learned.

H: So even without realising youíre teaching the baby so much just through the play there arenít you?

A: Yes and I think parents have forgotten that they are the childís first teacher.  You are your childís first friend, your childís first playmate and you are your childís first teacher and playing is teaching your baby and giving them the best chance of reaching their full potential because while you are playing they are acquiring a whole range of baby skills like manual dexterity, using their fingers accurately, being able to pick up things.  This is important when they start to feed themselves, just getting food to their mouths.  Hand eye coordination, you are teaching them about speech if you just keep up a running commentary about what you do so your baby is learning.

H: Learning the vocab I guess, more than anything

A: Building up the vocab and learning exchanges and learning how to ask questions, giving full reign to their curiosity.  You also encourage physical skills if you put a toy just out of reach of a nine months old child they have to really use their bodies and keep their balance to reach the toy.  So you are teaching them physical coordination and then crawling and then standing up and walking.  These are, learning to hold for instance, pick up a pea off the highchair, a current or a pea, in order to do that a child must have a very precise movement of finger and thumb thatís a pre-writing skill.  If you give them toys which are different shapes and they recognise shapes then thatís a pre-reading skill.  So while you are playing and if youíre playing with toys in the right way thatís as important as what the toy is, playing with it in the right way, then youíre benefitting your child and youíre benefitting yourself because this great joy and satisfaction in doing these things for your children.

H: When children are younger it seems much easier to play with them.  Once they get that little bit older they quite often donít want to sit with mum and dad and play anymore.  They just want to go on the Xbox, the PS2 or whatever.  How do you reengage with kids when they get that little bit older?

A: No they wonít want to go on to the Xbox if they are not introduced to them.  I mean, kids donít know about those things, of course not, you donít have to re-engage with them.  Whatever their age kids would rather do something with you than with anything else as long as they havenít got this menu of electronic gadgets that they can fall back on and there are so many games that you can play.  In fact Iím so keen on this you can tell that Iím a bit passionate about it for which I am sorry but I do believe in giving a child a flying start in life.  Iíve made a range of, designed a range of developmental toys with Galt for babies and toddlers and with each of these toys there is a parent guide just in case parents feel a bit insecure or shy or a bit embarrassed to get down on the floor and play with cars or animal toys, farmyard, that kind of thing.  There is a parent guide with each of these toys which tells you exactly what the toy can do for your child if you play with it and how to go about playing with this particular toy so that you and your child gets the most out of it.

H: I grew up playing with cabbage patch kids and tamagochis.  I guess, kids change over time and toys of course change to match that. How do you think the older toys compare to some modern day ones?

A: I think the, you see a toy is only as good as parental interaction.  A child playing on its own with a toy will never get from that toy the benefits, the enjoyment, the joy, the discovery that they will get if they are interacting with a caring adult, it doesnít have to be a parent.  It can be a granny, it can be an auntie, it can be an older sibling but the important thing about playing with toys is that there is a personal interaction going on because itís within that personal interaction that a child develops self-confidence and they start to understand about themselves, they start to understand about their worlds, they feel their place in their world and how to cope with it. So modern toys, Iíve designed a range of them, theyíre wonderful as long as parents play with their children whilst theyíre playing with their toys. Of course if you give a little girl a doll and a cot and a dolls house, she will play happily on her own with the imaginary games that you may have taught her when you first started playing with the doll. Similarly with boys, by the way Iím not stereotyping them, we know from research you canít teach a boy to, no matter how much you encourage them to play with dolls or a girl to play with space stations because theyíre programmed in a different way. But a boy will play on his own with cars and dinky toys and make traffic jams and things on their own, as long as theyíve been shown before how to play with the toys, so I think parents have a responsibility to take on their role of playmate in chief and first teacher.

H: Would you have any top tips for parents that are a little pushed for time and only have an hour in the day to play with their child, is there anything, any little things that you think would help them out?

A: Well I know time is scarce and most parents are stressed out and distracted and mums have difficulty just getting a meal on the table. I would say that one of the tips would be to use meal times. One of my grandchildrenís families, they have an interactive time whilst mumís making the breakfast in the kitchen, so theyíre all talking and they have games on the table, they have coloured pencils, theyíre drawing. Sometimes theyíre doing their homework for school, so I think any mealtime is an opportunity for play. I believe in having toys on the table. Your child will eat more if thereís a toy on the table, if theyíre happy, they will eat more of what you put in front of them than if itís very formal. So mealtimes open up, you know, fifteen minutes at breakfast, twenty minutes for a bit of lunch or tea, thatís a lot of time in which you can play and interact with your child. The other tip Iíd give them is to talk, just keep talking, pick up a toy and describe it, pick up a toy and say why a bird can fly, because it has wings and also they have beaks and they have feathers and they go tweet tweet. Or if thereís some flowers on the table, look at those pretty flowers, look what colour it is, letís smell it, ooh thatís a nice smell, letís go and find some nice flowers in the park or in the garden this afternoon. Talking is what children need and if you can keep up a running commentary, they said the great thing about Victorian nannies was that as soon as the child woke up, they started talking and they never stopped until the child went to sleep. Itís a very good thing to try to copy.

H: Weíve got something to learn. Where can people go to get some more information, Miriam?

A: Well if you go to galttoys.com, you will see all this research that weíve done, you will see all the toys and the play guides for parents and a lot of other interesting stuff to help parents become active players with their children.

H: Lovely, Miriam itís been an absolute pleasure talking to you, thank you so much for joining us.

A: Itís a pleasure, thank you

I am sure you agree this makes very interesting reading.  We would love to hear what you have to say about this so please pop by to our discussion forums and join us for a chat.

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