How Infants Learn and Interpret New Information

By: Christina Reichhold (U0926346)


The “Talking ABC Blocks” toy is a self-learning audio toy aimed for children 18 months to 4 years. It is shaped like a school house, and will speak out loud when a block with a certain letter of the alphabet is placed on it, for example “D is for duck, quack quack.” The toy also plays alphabet songs and lights up. It is designed to prepare young children for preschool and advance their learning subtly as they play. This toy stuck out to me because as a nanny I’ve personally seen how beneficial these types of toys are for learning and development, so I was interested to learn more and write about it.

In chapter 7 of Bornstein’s “Development in Infancy,” he discusses cognition in infancy and Piaget’s theory of knowledge. Piaget theorized that children 18 to 24 months are increasingly developing in their capacity for mental representation and insightful problem solving. So, children being targeted for this toy are children who are just developing the ability to create mental representations for things (like a duck saying quack quack). The child should be able to progressively understand the toy through insightful problem solving, i.e: a duck says quack quack, and duck starts with the letter “D.”

In the peer-reviewed article, “Concept-Based Word Learning in Human Infants,” researchers were interested in how infants (sixteen 14 month olds) formed concepts and interpreted new words. Mainly, they wanted to know if it was the visual appearance or the situational/behavioral context that helped infants interpret and learn words. Four experiments were conducted. The first studied if infants were able to map a word easier onto objects that varied in appearance but had fixed actions. The second had different action roles but the same visual appearance. The third directly asked the infants to map a label onto the “action role” or the “agents’ appearance.” In the last experiment, researchers specifically conducted a chasing (action) scene with a chaser and a target, and measured level of enjoyment in the infant mind. The results of this study showed that 14 month old infants are able to learn labels for objects defined by their action quicker than those defined by their appearance. This conclusion relates to the advertisement for the “Talking ABC Blocks,” as well as many other toys, television shows, etc for learning and development because it shows how infants form concepts and mental representations. The toy’s purpose is to learn the alphabet but it uses blocks with words and objects that the infant is probably learning as well. So, while one block might have an image of a duck on it, what really helps the infant learn the words is that the block will say “D is for duck: quack, quack (an action).”

The claims made in the advertisement, in my opinion, seem to line up with the research from the article. The toy is supposed to “build confidence and advance learning in a subtle way” ( which is a benefit that is supported by both the research and the Bornstein text. If children of this age are able to problem solve and create mental representations for things, then a child will build confidence when he/she is successful in the game (i.e: he/she knows that D is for duck who says quack quack). The blocks have different objects on them with actions for the object, which as the research suggests, helps the infant interpret and learn the object. I like that the advertisement promises to advance learning in a subtle way, because the child is playing and enjoying a game which uses music, lights, animals, etc and is at the same time learning. The only possible harm from this product is younger children might have a harder time learning the objects and understanding and giving up on it.

In conclusion, I think the product would be beneficial to the learning and development of children from 1 to 4 years of age. Children of this age are starting to develop the cognitive abilities of insightful problem solving and the capacity of mental representation, which this toy employs through lights, songs, talking, recognizing objects, problem solving, etc.


  1. Bornstein, M.H., Arterberry, M.E., Lamb, M.E., (2014). Development in Infancy. New York, NY: Psychology Press.
  2.  Yin, J., Csibra, G., (2015). Concept-Based Word Learning in Human Infants. (pgs. 1316-1323).




One thought on “How Infants Learn and Interpret New Information

  1. It could also be interesting to explore the effects of hearing letters and words from the toy as opposed to a parent/caregiver. In my research for my own blog post, it was pretty clear the infants learn better from real social interactions than from television shows. Could this relationship carry over to talking toys? It does seem like the benefit of this toy is that it offers visual and tactile associations with such abstract things as letters and words.
    Lucy Le Bohec


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