By: Victoria Whimpey
Above is a link to the infamous toy known as a “baby gym.” This is a device where an infant is typically set down laying on its back, with the toys dangling above it as a form of entertainment. The dangling objects directly above the infant are typically ranging in color with sharp contrasts and movements to aid the attention of the baby. This toy is advertised for use of the ages zero to eighteen months. What makes it so appealing to parents is the fact that it is claimed to help infants hand eye coordination when they reach out for the toys and the range of colors, contrast, and movement of the dangling objects stimulate the baby’s eyesight. I chose to talk about this product because of how widely used it is. I grew up babysitting a lot of families including infants of my own family, and it’s where mothers would place their child while they gave me directions, place if they were fussing, or just when the baby seemed bored the baby gym seemed like the designated place to put the infant. It fascinated me that simply reaching at dangling pieces of plastic entertained the child. And when I asked, every parent claimed it helped the baby’s development in some way or another, and would direct me to use the baby gym as well for these same reasons. So, I’m curious if these toys actually help with the development of an infant, or are just there for the sole purpose of entertainment.
This entertainment targets infants between 0 and 18 months. Is simply reaching at dangling objects beneficial to this age group? In Bornstein’s text, it is said that newborns, or baby’s age “0”, are able to visualize a moving object and reach for it. This early, then, infants are able to participate in this toy with the moving objects capturing its attention, and the ability to start to reach for it. The same book says that by around 2 and a half months, babies are able to better coordinate their reaches to the objects and even grasp those toys. At 5 months, they understand that if an object is out of their reach, they won’t attempt to reach for it. With the entertainment being within reach, they will reach, perhaps even more so than before with this knowledge, for the dangling pieces. And by nine months, they can reach with one glance at the toy. With this, infants may start to get bored of this play toy around this time, when it is advertised to apply until eighteen months. Bornstein states that the development of being able to reach one arm separately than the other is crucial to the ability to crawl. Practicing reaching for dangling toys as much as I’ve seen infants placed in this device, infants must be unintentionally practicing to reach one after the other, ultimately aiding their ability to crawl. With the ability to crawl, this form of entertainment may eventually lead to an infant’s emotional and social development. Bornstein’s book states that infants develop socially and emotionally once crawling and this includes the display of further attachment, an increase in anger display, and become more interested in interactive games. If this toy does, in fact, aid the development of reaching with different arms, then in turn, it aids crawling and the social and emotional development of an infant.
The research article, “Toy-oriented changes in early arm movement II–Joint kinematics.” Asks the question whether toys speed up the process of reaching or not. They believe that without toys, reaching wouldn’t be achieved at such an early age because of the fact that it’s not needed. They tested this hypothesis by using infants of similar ages (approximately eight weeks at the start) and testing level of reaching with or without the presence of a toy to reach for every other week until the infants reached about 20 weeks old. After this, these researchers concluded that babies did, in fact, reach more in the presence of toys as opposed to the absence of them. With this, it becomes more evident that baby gyms may aid the motor development of an infant.
With the information I have found doing this research, I have found that baby gyms are in fact beneficial to not just the motor development of an infant, but their social and emotional development as well. It is advertised to help a baby’s hand eye coordination, which is backed up by facts stated in Bornstein’s book as well as the research article that I found. However, the claim that the contrasting colors of the dangling toys help stimulate the baby’s eyesight, was not supported by my findings, as none of the articles I read said anything about sensory development being affected by the baby gym.
With the information I have found on this product, I better understand why so many parents so frequently use this toy for their infants. For whatever reason they need it in the moment, it seemingly, in the long run, helps infants with the development of not only motor skills, but potentially social and emotional skills with the assistance in crawling.
Bhat, A. N., Lee, H. M., & Galloway, J. C. (2007). Toy-oriented changes in early arm movement II–Joint kinematics. Infant Behavior & Development, 30(2), 307-324. doi:10.1016/j.infbeh.2006.10.007
Bornstein, M. H., Arterberry, M. E., & Lamb, M. E. (2014). Development in infancy: a contemporary introduction. New York: Psychology Press.