Eastern Connecticut State University
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Toys that Inspire Mindful Play and Nurture Imagination

Play is the fundamental way children prepare for the future. When children create a make-believe world, build a tower of blocks, or race a friend to the top of a hill, they acquire social and intellectual abilities needed to be successful in school and adulthood. Nearly all meaningful play includes toys. A single, engaging toy can transform a child's play from simple to symbolic, from repetitive to inventive, from solitary to social.

The Center for Early Childhood Education has a keen interest in studying how young children play. While there is much research on children’s play, few studies have looked at how children interact with toys in their play. To address this research gap, the Center conducts an annual TIMPANI Toy Study under the direction of Dr. Jeffrey Trawick-Smith. The ongoing empirical study looks at how young children in natural settings play with a variety of toys and identifies toys that best engage children in intellectual, creative, and social interactions in preschool classrooms.

Nominate a Toy for an Upcoming Study

We are now accepting nominations for the 2014 TIMPANI Toy Study. Submit your nomination here (click here for a printable version). The deadline for submission to be considered for the 2014 study is January 6, 2014.

TIMPANI Toy for 2013

There was a tie for the highest-scoring toy in the 2013 study. The two highest-scoring toys were:


by Valtech, LLC


My First Railway

by Brio


Watch a video about the TIMPANI Toy for 2013

Read a press release about the TIMPANI Toy for 2013


Study Methods

Toys are selected for inclusion in the TIMPANI study based on recommendations from parents, teachers, and faculty. After an initial screening by the TIMPANI Advisory Committee to determine the appropriateness of recommended toys, each toy to be studied is placed in a preschool classroom for a specified number of days. During that period, a remote video camera records children’s activities for three 20-minute periods during the “free play” part of the day in each of four classrooms. Videos of each toy are studied and rated using a faculty-developed instrument (raters achieved 95% inter-rater reliability on the instrument). Scores are tabulated to determine which toys receive the highest ratings on three subscales: thinking and learning, cooperation and social interaction, and self-expression and imagination. The toy that receives the highest scores on all three subscales is designated the TIMPANI Toy for the year. If two toys receive the same total score, researchers look at subscores and consistency of scores across days of study and across groups of children to determine which toy will be named the TIMPANI Toy for the year.

Student Engagement

A major goal of the TIMPANI toy study is to train students to conduct behavioral research. Students have been responsible for conducting preliminary research on toys, piloting the instrument, videotaping toy use, and coding videos. To date, ten students from sociology, psychology, and early childhood education have participated as student researchers. The undergraduate students involved in the 2013 study included:

Chamari Davis

Cassie Savalli

Previous Studies

TIMPANI Toy for 2012: DUPLO Bricks

TIMPANI Toy for 2011: TINKERTOY Construction Set

TIMPANI Toy for 2010: Wooden Vehicles and Traffic Signs


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.

2013 TIMPANI Advisory Committee

Ashley Anderson, Preschool Teacher

Angelica Booker, Preschool Teacher

Karyn Eves, Parent

Sue Mehalick, Preschool Teacher

Patrice Ramm, Preschool Teacher

Niloufar Rezai, Center Director



For additional information on the TIMPANI toy study, contact the Center for Early Childhood Education at (860) 465-0885.


Other research conducted by the Center for Early Childhood Education