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TIMPANI Toy Study:

Toys That Inspire Mindful Play and Nurture the Imagination


Principal Investigators: Jeffrey Trawick-Smith, Julia DeLapp

Student Researchers: Alyssa Barry, Rachel Borden, Chamari Davis, Kim DePaolis, Stefanie Dominguez, Nicole Green, Marley Koschel, Kristen Krause, Allison Lundy, Dominique McLean, Sayantani Nandy, Heather Oski, Niloufar Rezai, Heather Russell, Leah Slawinowski, Amanda Terenzi, Jamie Vallarelli, Liza Welling, Morgan Winship, Jenny Wolff, Huihui Yu, Alyssa Zebrowski, Kelly Zimmermann

This ten-year study examined the effects of specific toys on the play of three- and four-year-old children in culturally diverse preschool classrooms. The toys, which have varied in their features and intended uses, were selected by teachers, parents, researchers, and university students. Children's play with each toy was videorecorded for many hours during free play time in preschool classrooms. Researchers coded each toy using a Play Quality with Toys (PQT) rating instrument developed in a previous investigation.

Toys on each year of the study were found to vary significantly in their impact on play quality. PQT scores were also found to vary for each toy depending on the gender, socioeconomic status, and ethnicity of the child playing with it, and the length of time it was available in the classroom. Among the highest-scoring toys, for both boys and girls, and across diverse ethnic and socioeconomic groups and ages, have been:

  • Wooden vehicles
  • A wooden train set
  • A double painting easel
  • Small metal cars
  • Magna-Tiles
  • Small plastic animals
  • Tinkertoys
  • Duplo bricks
  • A toy wooden cash register
  • Magnetic, stackable, bottle-shaped pieces
  • Small replica people
These toys share certain common features that may explain their positive impact on children's play. Implications for selecting toys for classrooms and observing children's play with them have been identified and shared through conference presentations, peer-reviewed publications, and videos designed for teachers.

See videos highlighting each year's findings and a video and handout summarizing What Makes a Good Toy for preschoolers.

See more previous studies

  • Trawick-Smith, J., Wolff, J., Koschel, M., & Vallarelli, J. (2015). The effects of toys on the quality of preschool children: Influence of gender, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status. Early Childhood Education Journal, 43, 249-256.

    Trawick-Smith, J., Wolff, J., Koschel, M., & Vallarelli, J. (2014). Which toys promote high quality play? Reflections on the five year anniversary of the TIMPANI study. Young Children, 69, 40-46.

    Trawick-Smith, J., Woff, J., Koschel, M., Valarelli, J. (2015). Toys that promote high quality play. In H. Bohart, K. Charner, & D. Koralek (Eds.) Exploring play. Washington, DC: National Association for the Education of Young Children.