WILLIMANTIC, CT (12/06/2017) Written by Dwight Bachman
Eastern Connecticut State University's Center for Early Childhood Education announced on Dec. 6 that "Animal Kingdom Mega Pack" by Animal Planet has been named the 2017 TIMPANI (Toys that Inspire Mindful Play and Nurture Imagination) Toy.
Now in its eighth year, the annual study investigates how young children learn as they play with a variety of toys in natural settings. Ten toys were selected this year for the study by teachers, faculty and student researchers. The toys were placed in preschool classrooms at the University's Child and Family Development Resource Center, and student researchers used hidden cameras to videotape children playing with the toys. Researchers then coded the footage according to the study's evaluation rubric, which includes four subscales: thinking and learning, cooperation and social interaction, creativity and imagination, and verbalization. For this year's study, researchers coded nearly 8,000 five-minute observations.
"Undergraduate research is a strength of Eastern's liberal arts education," said Eastern President Elsa Núñez, "and the TIMPANI toy study is an outstanding example of students conducting faculty-sponsored research of the highest level on our campus. For the past eight years, our early childhood education students have observed children at play with a variety of toys, and have developed an annual criteria-based evaluation of what toys are best for the cognitive, social, and creative development of young children. Parents, preschool educators and others across the globe are turning to Eastern for guidance on how best to support children's play. In the process, our early childhood education students are learning to conduct empirical research of the highest quality."
The Animal Kingdom Mega Pack received the highest overall score in this year's study. It also scored the highest in three of the four subscales: creativity and imagination, social interaction, and verbalization. It was the highest-scoring toy for both boys and girls. It also scored highly for children from all ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds. "This was a toy that inspired high-quality play by children of all different backgrounds," said Julia DeLapp, director of the Center for Early Childhood Education and co-investigator of the study.
DeLapp noted that research studies such as the TIMPANI toy study are not available to undergraduate students at most colleges universities, but are essential elements of an Eastern education. The result, as she explained, was that early childhood education students are well prepared for graduate school and the workforce because of the professional experience that research projects provide.
The 2017 TIMPANI Toy, which includes plastic animals from a variety of habitats, is an example of a "replica play toy." According to Professor Jeffrey Trawick-Smith, principal investigator of the study and Phyllis Waite Endowed Chair of Early Childhood Education, replica play toys provide important opportunities for children to engage in symbolic, make-believe play. "When children are playing with these kinds of toys, they have to do something beyond just becoming a make-believe character themselves. They actually have to project themselves into the role of an animal. This takes what some researchers call a 'greater symbolic leap' from reality to the make-believe play theme."
Trawick-Smith said toys such as the "Animal Kingdom Mega Pack" have been played with for centuries. "Even children in Ancient Rome have been recorded playing with little replicas of animals and people."
As Dominique McLean, a psychology and early childhood education student involved in the study, noted, "The animals were an open-ended toy that allowed children to bring their prior knowledge into their play narratives. They collaborated with their peers to create habitats and to sort the animals."
Nicole Green, an English and elementary education student involved in the study, said that the study made clear to her how important play is for children's learning. "I saw many important life skills that were being taught as children were playing with each other, and I think that those need to be fostered even as they get a little older and move into elementary school."
Other students involved in this year's study were researchers Amanda Terenzi, a social work student, and Stefanie Dominguez, a communication and early childhood education student. Ayla Heald was the student editor for this year's video, with student Emily Parsons providing additional support for the study.
The results of the study were first announced at the annual meeting of the National Association for the Education of Young Children in Atlanta, GA, on Nov. 15. Findings will be disseminated to preschool teachers nationally to inform their decisions about the toys to include in their classroom. Findings will also be shared with families.
To see today's press conference on the TIMPANI Toy of the Year, visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BRHzF_sUnP4
For more information on the 2017 TIMPANI Toy of the Year, visit http://www.easternct.edu/cece/timpani/, or contact the Center for Early Childhood Education at (860) 465-0687 or visit www.easternct.edu/cece/timpani/.
Previous TIMPANI toys include Plus-Plus® by Plus-Plus® (2016), Wooden Cash Register by Hape (2015); Paint and Easel (easel by Community Playthings), and Hot Wheels Cars by Mattel (2014); Magna-Tiles by Valtech!, and My First Railway by Brio (2013); Duplo Blocks by LEGO (2012); Tinker Toys by Hasbro (2011); Wooden Vehicles and Signs by Melissa and Doug (2010).
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Disclaimer: The TIMPANI toy study does not consider, nor does it test, the safety of toys. The study makes no claims about the safety of any toy studied. Neither the Center for Early Childhood Education nor Eastern Connecticut State University is liable for any mishaps related to the use of toys mentioned in study findings. Concerns about any toy listed in the study findings should be directed to the Consumer Products Safety Commission.