When tablet computers first became popular, Darren Turbeville — owner of Toy B Ville on Main Street — would often have customers ask for toy recommendations for their children, some as young as 3 years old.
Turbeville would suggest a classic toy such as a puzzle only to get parent resistance: “He already does that on his iPad.”
Approximately 54 percent of parents planned holiday technology purchases in 2013, with tablets topping their lists, according to a survey released by PBS KIDS, which surveyed 1,000 parents with children between the ages of 2 and 10.
While classic toys have had to compete with technology, Turbeville said he’s noticed some “pushback” against the electronic toy craze — and for that he is thankful.
Turbeville’s most popular item this past holiday season was the “Rainbow Loom,” a $16 arts and crafts kit that teaches children how to make rubber band bracelets. Dolls and alphabet blocks — some of the most classic toys ever invented — were also in high demand.
The popularity of arts and crafts and other traditional toys wasn’t just limited to small toy stores. Toys R Us also reported strong sales of classic toys this past holiday.
Similar to Toy B Ville, one of the most in-demand toys at Toys R Us was the “Cra-Z-Loom Bracelet Maker,” which offered 600 rubber bands of assorted colors for kids to make bracelets or other crafts.
Kerry Smith, Toys R Us spokesperson, said some kids have used the rubber bands to make flip-flops and backpacks. For $14.99, the item is also a favorite among parents, she said.
“It’s back to the basics,” Smith said. “Parents love that it allows kids to be creative.”
Other favorite toys in 2013 included the “Big Hugs Elmo” doll, the “Flutterbye Flying Fairy” doll, and, of course, Legos, Smith said.
While there’s still an “affinity” for classic forms of play, Smith said there’s “no denying” the growing popularity of technology.
Toys R Us offers two different tablets for kids, and even Napa’s Toy B Ville offers a kid-friendly tablet and smartphone.
The fake Smartphone, with its educational games, became one of Turbeville’s top 10 best-sellers for the 2013 holiday season, he said.
Andrea Knowlton, director of Early Childhood Services for the Napa County Office of Education, said digital devices, like tablets, can be good learning tools if the apps are based on the child’s developmental level and engage the child in learning. The important thing is that the tablets don’t replace interactive play.
“Kids are kinesthetic learners,” Knowlton said. “That’s how they learn — through movement.”
Every kid, Knowlton said, should have a good set of blocks and engage their imagination with dolls or other toys. And equally important is that parents talk with their children about what they’re playing — this exposes children to vocabulary and the appropriate use of language, Knowlton said.
The role of digital devices is to reinforce what children are learning — not replace the interaction of physical toys and games, said Barbara Nemko, Napa County superintendent of schools. Before purchasing a digital device, Nemko said, parents should research whether or not the device is educational and easy for the child to operate.
“Parents need to do their homework, like with most things they buy,” Nemko said.