Traditional toys are best for babies' language development

May 1, 2016

Parents who want to stimulate their young child’s language development during their playtime together should put aside electronic toys in favor of traditional toys or books, an almost 1.5 year study in 26 parent-infant pairs suggests.

Parents who want to stimulate their young child’s language development during their playtime together should put aside electronic toys in favor of traditional toys or books, an almost 1.5 year study in 26 parent-infant pairs suggests.

Each infant-parent pair (infants ranged in age from 10 to 16 months) engaged in 2 15-minute play sessions each day with a rotating type of toy set-electronic, traditional, or books-during a 3-day period, resulting in 30 minutes of play per day, which investigators recorded. All the toys focused on animal names, colors, and shapes. The electronic toy set was comprised of 3 battery-operated toys (advertised as “educational”) with buttons and switches that produced lights, words, phrases, and songs. The traditional toys included a farm animal wooden puzzle, a shape sorter, and a set of rubber blocks with pictures of animals and common objects. The books toy set consisted of 5 board books with animal, color, and shape themes.

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Compared with play with traditional toys or books, play with electronic toys produced fewer adult words; fewer conversational responses by the child or parent to what the other just said; fewer parental responses to a child’s comment; and fewer content-specific words (words produced by the parent related to animal names, colors, and shapes). Books were superior to traditional toys in producing adult words and use of content-specific words. The least consistent and smallest differences in measures of parent-infant communication were between books and traditional toys, however, and the largest and most consistent differences were between electronic toys and books, followed by electronic toys and traditional toys (Sosa AV. JAMA Pediatr. 2016;170[2]:132-137).

Commentary  Although I am amazed at how toddlers can handle a cell phone and entertain themselves for long periods watching videos and playing games, I am also a little concerned that families encourage this. Engaging the child with interactive play is more work for the caregiver, but it’s also more fun. Our advice to parents who are choosing toys for their children should be this: Keep it simple. Avoid the literal and figurative bells and whistles. When in doubt, buy a board book. -Michael G Burke, MD

Ms Freedman is a freelance medical editor and writer in New Jersey. Dr Burke, section editor for Journal Club, is chairman of the Department of Pediatrics at Saint Agnes Hospital, Baltimore, Maryland. The editors have nothing to disclose in regard to affiliations with or financial interests in any organizations that may have an interest in any part of this article.