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Discerning Gift-Givers Look for Toys That Offer More Than Fun
Date:12/19/2011

By Dennis Thompson
HealthDay Reporter

MONDAY, Dec. 19 (HealthDay News) -- When it comes to toys, kids' wish lists for the holiday season often pose a dilemma for parents, who find themselves asking two crucial questions.

The first question is almost knee-jerk: Which of these toys will be safe for my child?

And the second, though not as obvious, is becoming more common in the era of toys and media aimed at spurring a child's development: Which of these toys will be good for my kid?

Common sense can help guide parents to toys that will aid their child's growth, said Dr. Garry Gardner, chairman of the American Academy of Pediatrics' council on injury, violence and poison prevention and a Chicago area pediatrician.

"Two things come to mind," Gardner said. "Kids need toys that are engaging and encourage imaginative and creative play. And kids need toys that encourage activity and exercise."

December has been dubbed Safe Toys and Gifts Month, but many parents these days want to buy gifts that go beyond being harmless and actually are beneficial for kids.

Gardner and Dr. Benjamin Hoffman, a pediatrician at Doernbecher Children's Hospital in Portland, Ore., agreed that one of the best things parents can do is purchase toys that cut down on the amount of their children's "screen time" -- time spent in front of televisions, computers and portable devices.

Video games can help hone a child's fine motor skills, but they also drain time away from more creative or healthy pursuits, Gardner said.

"I've seen kids outside on a beautiful day at the park and here they are, sitting on a bench and playing a video game," he said. "And kids sitting in front of a screen often are snacking -- and not on healthy foods."

What's worse, Hoffman said, is that so much screen input might have detrimental effects on kids' development.

"The cognitive stimulation kids receive from a screen is different,
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