Eastern Connecticut State University’s Center for Early Childhood Education announced on December 6th that the Animal Kingdom Mega Pack Playset by Animal Planet has been named the 2017 TIMPANI Toy in the annual study conducted by faculty and student researchers.
The study, now in its ninth year, investigates how young children play with a variety of toys in natural settings. For the 2017 study, 10 toys were selected to represent the different types of toys typically seen in a preschool classroom. The toys were placed in preschool classrooms and scored on subscales of 1) thinking and problem-solving, 2) cooperation and social interaction, 3) creativity and imagination, and 4) verbalization. Student researchers videotaped the children playing with the toys using hidden cameras and coded the videos according to the study’s evaluation rubric.
The Animal Kingdom Mega Pack Playset, which includes plastic animals from a variety of habitats, is an example of a replica play toy. According to 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.”
In addition to receiving the highest overall score in this year’s study, the toy 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.
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 just saw so 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 Amanda Terenzi, a social work student, and Stefanie Dominguez, a communication and early childhood education student.
The results of the study were first announced at the annual meeting of the National Association for the Education of Young Children in Atlanta, Georgia, on November 15th. 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.
For more information about the TIMPANI Toy Study and to watch a video featuring the animals and other high-scoring toys from the study, visit http://www.easternct.edu/cece/timpani/