By: Emma Carson–U0920535
I think most of us can agree that when a parent purchases their child a toy that is marketed as “educational” or “helpful for development” they are only trying to help. However, it may often be the case that their infant instead becomes the victim of their naïve consumerism as some studies have found these claims to be false. Far too many toy companies are taking advantage of parents good intentions and making false claims about their products. A big one of the last decade: talking toys.
Talking toys are electronic toys with lots of buttons to press that will greet the baby, sing the alphabet, or ask questions. To find a few examples of these types of toys all I did was google search “educational toys” and immediately a lot of talking toys popped up. The first link I checked out led to the Fischer Price website where I found THIS toy. It is even called the “Laugh and Learn”, a colorful toy with numbers, letters, and shapes and a voice that recites these things to the infant. There it is, proof of these false claims. It is easy to see why a parent might think these toys will help. Interestingly enough I clicked on this specific toy because I recognized it as a toy at my parents house that they have for when their grand kids come over! That is why I chose to write on talking toys, not only is it interesting and counter intuitive to learn that these toys aren’t actually helpful but it is interesting and frustrating to see how a great deal of their marketing promises are a lie and so many people give in to it.
Talking toys are most often promoted as helping infants develop their language skills but these toys may actually be hindering this development. A study done by Ana V. Sosa, PhD was created to measure the quantity and quality parent-child communication based on the toy being played with. The study focused on 10-16 month children and their play with electronic toys, traditional toys, and books. The study found a decrease in vocalization made by the infant, parent interaction and conversation, and all around developmental quality of the play compared with the other toys. The study confidently concludes that electronic toys are not only not beneficial to infant language development but that these talking toys should be altogether discouraged.
So what exactly is the recommendation for helping infants with language development?
Now imagine for a moment the interaction had between a mother and baby playing with an interactive book, maybe one that has pop ups, pictures, and labels. How do you see this interaction going? Usually the mom will read the page out loud or point to animals and say their name or ask the baby what sound it makes. The mother playing along and asking the baby questions will usually elicit some sort of response. The baby will try to mimic the words their mother says or attempt to answer the moms questions. Baby books provide very good interactive time between the parent and the child, and it is these types of interactions that are best for helping a baby’s language skills! In our textbook “Development in Infancy”(Bornstein, 2014, p.180) he says that imitation and observational learning are very important. When a parent directly interacts with her child, saying words and pointing to their meaning, an infant will watch and learn and when they are ready try to identify words to objects on their own. During observational learning mirror neurons are activated and this will help the infant to be able to perform the acts or say the words themselves. Taking a way the person to person interaction and leaving a baby with an electronic toy that is attempting to teach them the alphabet makes this impossible.
The answers are in the research: talking toys are out. Instead focus on the quality of your interactions with infants–rather than showy, loud toys– just talk to them ask them questions even if you think they won’t be able to answer just yet!
Bornstein, M. H., Arterberry, M. E., & Lamb, M. E. (2014). Development in infancy: a contemporary introduction. New York: Psychology Press.
Sosa, A. V. (2016). Association of the Type of Toy Used During Play With the Quantity and Quality of Parent-Infant Communication. JAMA Pediatrics, 170(2), 132. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2015.3753