Here at the Thinker-Tinker blog we’ve spent a lot of time singing the praises of our newest product—the octopus plush toy Octobo—and smart toys in general. But in this article we want to take some time to consider an argumentagainstpre-ordering this interactive plush toy, and explain why it’s flat-out wrong.
So what claim could someone level against Octobo, one of the best learning toys for toddlers now on the market?
As you probably know by now, Octobo is a smart toy in virtue of the fact that it operates with any 7-8 inch tablet, including the iPad Mini and Amazon Fire 7, through Bluetooth. The Octobo App contains all the games and features this smart toy has to offer, and its operating system is compatible with iOS 6.0, Android, 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich and up.
But this means that Octobo technically makes use of a screen, and this is sure to conjure up worries about excessive “screen time” among younger children, especially toddlers. In the age of electronics, it’s become a standard lament among tech-concerned parents: putting your child in front of a television, tablet, or other electronic device is the equivalent of an electronic babysitter, and a poor one at that, they say. This criticism could be directed at interactive plush toys that use a tablet, including Octobo.
Many parents are under the impression that any amount of screen time is bad. A major study published this year in the journal JAMA Pediatrics found that the greater amount of time a toddler spent in front of a screen, the poorer his communication, motor skills, and problem-solving and personal social skills later on. More specifically, children aged 2 to 3 who spent more time watching TV programs, films or videos, gaming, and using a computer, tablet, phone or any other screen-based device had less robust development in the aforesaid areas at ages 3 to 5.
But while this study might have made many parents weary of all types of screen time across the board—including screen time accessible through smart toys and interactive plush toys—the experts simply weren’t convinced.
Andrew Przybylski, an associate professor and director of research at the University of Oxford’s Oxford Internet Institute, expressed serious doubts about the conclusions drawn from the study. “The conclusions drawn are overly strong for the method used,” he said. While Przybylski acknowledged that “[m]uch of this study is well conducted … there are huge limitations to be aware of in terms of the practical implications of the work.”
Most tellingly, Przybylski said it was far too early to conclude that “limiting screen time alone will improve developmental outcomes for children in any meaningful way.” In other words, while screen timemight negatively affect toddlers’ ability to reach developmental milestones at the 36- and 60-month marks, itmight not. The correlation simply isn’t strong enough to prove causation.
What’s more, the sample of children used in the study may not be representative of the broader population because most of them had excessive amounts of screen time far above the national average. At the age of 2, the children had around 17 hours of screen time per week, and at the age of 3 had around 25 hours of screen time per week. This number dropped to around 11 hours a week at the age of 5.
From all this we can conclude that screen time itself isn’t bad, but excessive screen time probably is.
Even more concerning, the study didn’t make a firm distinction between the different kinds of screen time children can engage in. In the eyes of the researchers who conducted the study, television watching was equivalent to all kinds of tablet use which, depending on the apps in question, could have been far more active an activity for the children in question than the passivity of TV use.
What this means is that the study was simply unable to register the differences in effect on childhood development posed by different kinds of electronic use. It certainly wasn’t able to register the effect of smart toys or interactive plush toys on childhood development, because they weren’t clearly delineated in the study either. Some of the best educational apps for kids are likely to be more developmentally beneficial than those mind-numbing pass/fail games frequently available on tablets that aren’t used in conjunction with smart toys.
From this criticism we can also conclude the obvious—not all screen time is created equal.
Putting these two conclusions together, we can reasonably say that a moderate amount of screen time, especially active screen time designed to target the development of certain skills, is perfectly fine if not salutary for toddlers.
Our conclusion is supported by the experts, too.
The American Academy of Pediatrics’guidelines for electronic use for children ages 2 to 5 recommend that preschool children watch about one hour of “high-quality programming” a day, not the average 2 to 3 hours per day most preschool-aged children get. The guidelinesalso recommend that parents hold “media-free” times and locations for the benefit of their kids.
Furthermore,a study from the University of Washington showed that 7 month olds who had a chance to interact with a Mandarin Chinese speaker in real life demonstrated a superior capacity to distinguish Mandarin sounds from English compared against groups who were only exposed to a DVD or audio of Mandarin. In fact, these latter groups exhibited no language acquisition whatsoever. Clearly, lifelike interactivity is key in determining whether or not a technology will develop children’s latent capacities.
And if that’s not enough to convince you, experts say that not just any interaction between toddlers and adults will do—responsive interactions, as well as non-sedentary activities (which develop gross motor skills into fine ones), are necessary for holistic and multidimensional development.
Both of these recommendations can be easily applied to smart toys and interactive plush toys. In fact, this sage advice is already incorporated into the design Octobo, one of the best learning toys for toddlers, and the Octobo App, one of the best educational apps for kids.
Even though some studies have shown that screen time can have a negative effect on children’s development, Octobo isn’t just another electronic device. It’s a lifelike character whose sensors allow it to interact with your child in an empathetic way, and it uses your tablet to run a variety of thematic games appropriate for toddlers of all ages. In short, Octobo is a real smart toy designed for preschool boys and girls, not a passive television screen or simple pass/fail tablet game.
First off, Octobo is an interactive plush toy made “smart” by its use of technology—it’s not a stuffed animal that relies on a child’s imagination to come to life, nor is it a television or tablet devoid of all human warmth. In fact, this smart toy for preschool girls and boys isn’t just interactive, it’s lifelike too, all the while meeting your kid’s physical, mental, and emotional developmental needs.
Here’s how. For one, Octobo helps to develop 0-2 year olds’ fine motor development by calibrating its realistic reactions to your child’s actions. For instance, this smart toy’s hidden, built-in sensors can detect the difference between a hug and a handshake, and the Octobo App turns your tablet into a friendly eye that registers pokes! If your young one treats Octobo with gentleness, this interactive smart toy will respond positively; if not, it will gently correct your child in turn. A television or tablet screen alone can’t invite this kind of physical interaction, nor can they teach your child such vital and important lessons as respect and consideration for others, not to mention basic cause-and-effect relationships as they relate to human interaction.
These empathetic responses aren’t only limited to poking and hugging, nor is Octobo limited to 0-2 year olds. This smart toy also caters to older toddlers, even those in the 5-7 year range, who tend to favor learning through narrative-driven playtime. This smart plush toy’s Underwater Adventure Storykit and Great Letter Search Storykit use an engaging combination of virtual app, physical storybook, and narrative adventure to present lessons about shapes, patterns, and colors. And because these storykits feature tokens—your young one will be asked to put the correct tokens into Octobo’s bag to receive a positive response—younger toddlers will still find this game a great way to develop their fine motor skills. While certain children’s television channels might attempt to integrate many of these educational features into their programming, they simply can’t offer the physical, interactive, and robust responsive components available with this interactive plush toy.
And finally, we can’t forget to mention one Octobo feature that will put those parents most weary about screen at ease. The Parent Portal of the Octobo App allows you to set a time limit on how much time your kid can spend playing with this interactive plush toy, meaning thatyou’re the boss when it comes totheirscreen time consumption. This is one of the best educational apps for kids because it allows you to easily follow the guidelines set by American Academy of Pediatrics mentioned above.
Now, we understand that you might be wondering about how this feature makes Octobo unique when compared against any other television. Don’t pretty much all TVs allow parents to set child timers? Yes, but this smart toy has an operating system that mimics health social relationships—it gives your child areason for ending playtime that they can understand! Instead of just switching off and leaving your toddler metaphorically scratching their head as to why playtime ended, this interactive plush toy tells your child, “I’m feeling tired and need to rest now. Let’s play again later.” What better way for a parent to teach their child to honor the wishes of others than by having their toy reinforce this lesson at the end of every play date! Even some of the best learning toys for toddlers lack this kind of lifelike, educational depth.
So have no fear! Octobo was a smart toy designed by parents like you, parents deeply concerned about the negative effects of screen time, but also deeply optimistic about the possibilities new technology can offer in the way of helping toddlers develop their skills in the proper manner without recourse to traditional toys and games. Because this octopus toy is both an interactive plush toy and a smart toy, it bypasses the dangers of passive electronic consumption for children and instead uses technology to everyone’s advantage.
Octobo truly is one of the best learning toys for toddlers, and its attendant app is one of the best educational apps for kids too. Pre-order Octobo now and see for yourself!