There is no doubt that parents, caregivers, daycare providers, and early childhood educators are under a tremendous amount of pressure these days to provide our youngest children with the highest quality of experiences in order to prepare them for the future. Naturally, our modern instincts lead us to look to what we perceive to be trusted sources for how best to support the development of our infants and toddlers even when doing something as seemingly simple as selecting toys. The key word here is “perceive.” In the information age it is easy to be overwhelmed by blogs, opinion pieces, research studies and related product lists, not to mention hearing the opinions of family, friends, and co-workers. So then what happens? More often than not, while perusing the toy aisle at Target, parents tend to pick up items packaged with educational buzz words that make them feel that they will indeed be enhancing their child’s development. And, more often than not, the toys being selected today are electronics. Not only are these toys packaged to make one believe they are educational, they are appealing, because, let’s be honest, when parents have a million of things that need to get done in a day, the toys can provide the distraction needed to be able to check things off the list while the little one is occupied. Here in lies another confusing factor. The fact that infants and toddlers, who have yet to develop the capacity to attend to tasks for long periods of time, are so captivated by these toys. A recent study done by Jenny S. Radesky, M.D. and Dimitri A. Christakis, M.D., M.P.H. notes that digital features, such as lights or noises, gain a child’s attention by activating his/her orientating reflex on the novel visual or auditory stimuli. This response can be very functional in that it demonstrates the intrinsically motivating characteristic of such toys.
However, there is a plethora of research that suggests that modern, or electronic, toys for infants and toddlers that employ flashing lights, music or any type of electronic effect have been found to reduce the amount of language exposure, as well as the quality of the type of language used by parents during play. A study conducted in by Anna V. Sosa, PhD et al. at Northern Arizona University with 26 parent-infant pairs with baby’s that were 10-16 months of age found that children who played with their parents with electronic toys (as opposed to traditional toys or board books) were exposed to fewer adult words, conversational turns, parental responses overall and content-specific words. Furthermore, such children were found to vocalize less while playing with the electronic toys than while “reading” books. This vocal play that takes place during interactions in the early years is enormously important in language development. The researchers found that overall, parents produced the most words, including content-specific words, during play with books. This finding supports the perspective that the best educational tools are the important adults in the child’s life, books, and simple materials such as blocks. Herein lies why we do what we do. We believe deeply in supporting the child-adult partnership and the learning that takes places in these interactions. We strive to create an environment rich with possibilities for conversations that support all areas of growth and development, stimulate deeper level thinking, and overall, will support all children in developing into successful, lifelong learners.
1. Sosa, A.V. (2015). Association of the Type of Toy Used During Play With the Quantity and Quality of Parent-Infant Communication. Jama Pediatrics, published online December 23, 2015. doi: 10.1001/jamapediatrics.2015.3753
2. Neuroscience News. (December 31, 2015). Electronic Baby Toys Associated With Decrease in Quality and Quantity of Language in Infants. Retrieved from http://neurosciencenews.com/toys-language-neurodevelopment-3330/