The world needs educated children to help solve major challenges. But what does a well-rounded, effective education look like? There is scientific evidence to suggest that the key developmental benefit of play is an important part of a holistic education.
One study looking at brain scans of participants over the course of two decades, conducted by the Center for Neuroscience and Society at the University of Pennsylvania, demonstrated that cognitive stimulation from parents in early childhood—using tools such as educational toys and children’s books—has a positive effect on brain development later in life.
A child’s play means much more than fun and games alone; it is recognized as a critical element of learning and development from an early age through to young adulthood.
Play helps children reach important developmental milestones related to their physical, social, cognitive and emotional health, along the way providing them with the skills they need to interact positively with others, manage their own emotions and understand the world in which they live.
Engagement in play and recreational activity appropriate to the age of the child is so essential to human development that the UN High Commission for Human Rights recognizes it as the right of every child.
About 90 percent of preschool children’s play in the U.S. involves a toy of some sort, says the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). And there is no more fundamental or invaluable ingredient to play than toys and games, according to researchers from the Center for Early Childhood Education at Eastern Connecticut State University.
From 2010-2019, the researchers conducted the TIMPANI (Toys that Inspire Mindful Play And Nurture Imagination) Toy Study, an empirical investigation of toys for preschool children. The study found that nearly all meaningful play includes toys, with a single, engaging toy able to “transform a child's play from simple to symbolic, from repetitive to inventive, from solitary to social”.
Even the most basic toys come with lessons to learn. For example, when a child builds a tower with blocks, then eventually knocks it over, they are experiencing valuable concepts of physics like gravity, momentum and inertia. In time they start inventing solutions to prevent the tower falling in the first place.
Based on this body of research, it is perhaps little surprise that smart toys and games, which inspire mindful play and nurture imagination through interactive and immersive experiences, are fundamental to the development of children in the digital age.
As such, contemporary toy manufacturers are keeping pace with the rapidly changing world by creating wirelessly connected products to challenge young people’s creativity and imagination. Moreover, tech built-in to modern toys is helping teach kids invaluable motor skills – particularly fine motor skills, the coordination of small muscles in movement of the eyes, hand, fingers and thumbs for completing everyday tasks like handwriting.
A recent example of the advance in toy technology is a wireless smart wand from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment that enables an interactive, multimedia, multisensory spell-casting experience for child wizard Harry Potter fans.
Created in partnership with design firm New Peak Interactive, the Harry Potter: Magic Caster Wand uses Nordic-enabled Bluetooth LE wireless connectivity to relay touch and motion sensor ‘spell’ data to an associated smartphone app. From there, the user can review their unique user profile – for example levels and experience attained – as well as a spell book with over 50 spells and multiplayer duels.
According to the makers of the collectible platform, the product is the only smart wand on the market able to recognize multiple spell gestures and connect to smart home devices for rich lighting animations and unrivalled depth of play.
Central to the design and functionality of many smart toys is the integration of hardware and software that provide the required processing power, robust connectivity and low power consumption – all in a compact form factor to meet the size constraints of handheld products.
Mike Goslin, CEO of New Peak Interactive, says the Wafer Level Chip Scale Package (WL-CSP) version of Nordic’s nRF52832 SoC with Arm Cortex-M4 processor—in combination with a proprietary RF layout—provides the Harry Potter: Magic Caster Wand with the necessary processing power, memory allocation and PCB footprint to create the desired system functionality in the ultra compact space needed to honor its prop replica dimensions.
In addition, both the wand and the box comprising the solution integrate Nordic nPM1100 dedicated power management IC (PMIC) with a highly efficient dual-mode configurable buck regulator and integrated battery charger, ensuring reliable power delivery and stable operation whilst maximizing battery life.
Nordic’s technology is allowing developers to take advantage of a lucrative and expanding sector. U.S. parents buy about 10 toys on average for their child each year, with the annual spending on toys per child around $329 on average, according to a 2021 Premium Joy study of 1000 parents with kids aged 3-12 years. And the global toy market has grown by over 13 percent since 2018 (data by Statista).
While traditional toys and games still have a role to play, wirelessly connected gameplay has the potential to take learning and development to a whole new level.
This article was first published on Nordic's Get Connected Blog.