Imagine that you give your child a toy, one that you are positive he or she will love. You put thought and money into this toy. Perhaps it was promoted as educational, or perhaps it’s the latest must-have toy. You wrap the toy up, and your child opens it…only to end up tossing the toy to the side and playing with the box.

This can be frustrating as a parent, but there is a lesson here. Children don’t need flashy toys to be happy and to play. They just need their imaginations.

What’s the purpose of toys anyway? We’re told that children learn through play, and this is true, but what exactly are they learning? It depends on the toy and the circumstances.

Ideally, children aren’t playing with toys by themselves. When they’re young, they should be interacting with the toys with a caregiver. When they’re older, perhaps they’re also playing with their friends. Sure, it’s fine for children to play by themselves, but toys should not be a substitute for human interaction.

According to information provided by the American Association of Pediatricians (AAP), “one of the most important purposes of play with toys throughout childhood, and especially in infancy, is not educational at all but rather to facilitate warm, supportive interactions and relationships.”

What kinds of toys foster these types of interactions? Basic toys like dolls, action figures, blocks, balls and toy cars are recommended. What’s not recommended? Toys like tablets, phones and anything that negates the need for interaction with another person, such as a teddy bear that reads a story by itself.

When we give our children traditional toys, this encourages them to be creative and use their imagination. They learn things like problem solving when they try to build a tower with blocks. They use their imagination when they play with pretend food in a play kitchen. Playing with bats and balls helps children build gross motor skills in a way a video game never could.

According to the AAP, “sometimes the simplest toys may be the best, in that they provide opportunities for children to use their imagination to create the toy use, not the other way around. Choose toys that will grow with the child, foster interactions with caregivers, encourage exploration and problem-solving, and spark the child’s imagination.”

Reading books is also a great idea and a great way to come up with ways to play with toys. The AAP recommends that all parents visit their local library on a regular basis.

What kinds of toys do your children enjoy playing with the most? Does it surprise you that traditional toys are recommended over modern, flashy toys?