Why the Type of Toy Baby Plays With Matters

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ByAnisa Arsenault
Associate Editor
Aug 2017
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Photo: Antonis Achilleos

We know playtime with kids isn’t only fun, it’s important to encourage healthy child development. But research shows all playtime isn’t created equal—turns out, the type of toys your kids play with matters. And the simpler the toys are, the better.

An article published by JAMA Pediatrics in 2015 found that toddlers who play with electronic toys–anything that produces lights, words and songs–show a decreased quality and quantity of language during playtime compared to toddlers who played with books or more traditional non-battery operated toys like blocks and shape sorters.

Researchers indicate the the toys themselves are not inherently good or bad, but the effect they have on parent-child interaction can pose a problem.

“If the emphasis is on activities that promote a rich communicative interaction between parents and infants, both play with traditional toys and book reading can be promoted as language-facilitating activities while play with electronic toys should be discouraged,” the Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff, study says.

Essentially, electronic toys give parents the least opportunity to communicate with their toddlers; the toy takes care of interaction on its own. And as a result, toddlers are less likely to vocalize responses. Books, on the other hand, obviously lend themselves to the most vocalization and content-specific words spoken by parents. Traditional toys fall somewhere in the middle, eliciting more verbal back-and-forth than electronic toys, but not as much as books.

To conduct the study, researchers used audio equipment to monitor 26 different parent-child interactions with infants between 10 and 16 months old. Electronic toys included a baby laptop, a baby cell phone and a talking farm; traditional toys included a wooden puzzle, a shape sorter and rubber blocks; and books included five board books with farm animal, shape or color themes.

The biggest takeaway of the study? Especially for working parents, the amount of time there is to spend playing and interacting with young children is limited. It’s important to make the most of it with the right tools. We can help get you on the right track; check out these classic toys and books we love.

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