Before we look at the benefits of passive toys it would make sense that we define what we mean by passive toys, be it an activity cube, an instrument, a walker or a cuddle toy there are generally passive and active alternatives.
Passive toys are essentially toys that don’t do anything unless your child makes them do it. They require children to use them and become an active participant in play, rather than just being a passive observer to an active toy.
Passive toys do not have an on-switch. There are no batteries and no wind-up mechanism. Active toys, on the other hand, provide entertainment for your child. They do something that your child can passively sit back and enjoy.
Active toys are also generally hard for children to understand, how batteries work is a little beyond the average 1-year-old, and so they are less able to discover and learn when they play.
For many toys there will be both passive and active options available. You can buy a real toy guitar that will make a noise when your child strums the strings or bangs on the body of the guitar. You can even make one with elastic bands. Or you can buy an electronic toy guitar that plays songs and makes other noises when you press a button.
Likewise a walker or activity cube can also be passive or active, electronic or wooden, as can toy animals or a fire engine.
So what are the advantages of passive toys for babies?
Toys that don’t do anything might not feel like they’ll be as much fun for little ones to play with but they actually have huge benefits when thinking about child development.
The basic premise is that passive toys teach children to be active and active toys teach children to be passive. That’s not to say that babies and children shouldn’t be given active toys, they can be a lot of fun, but babies, in particular, should be given plenty of access to passive toys.
Too much access to active toys teaches babies to want or even need to be amused and entertained by something, lying watching a mobile twirl and making music in front of them, can easily translate to preferring to watch tv than play when they’re bigger.
Passive toys on the other hand only do something when children play with them. Whether that’s a rattle, a ball or a set of blocks, passive toys teach children to think, to perceive, to understand. They discover the effects of gravity when they drop something, they discover cause and effect as they bash their blocks together or shake their rattle and they make a noise, they discover basic mathematical skills as they work out how things fit together.
Passive toys teach concrete concepts such as gravity, cause and effect, how things work and fit together (often mathematical relationships), they can help develop coordination and concentration, develop fine and gross motor skills. Passive toys can teach children perseverance, problem-solving and investigative skills. All the child needs is the toys or materials, space, and long periods of free uninterrupted play!