Thursday 14 January 2016

Toy preference and parent-infant communication?

I was intrigued to read the findings reported by Anna Sosa [1] who reported that "play with books and traditional toys was superior to play with electronic toys in promoting high-quality communication."

This was a study looking at communication between parents and their infants aged 10-16 months old as a function of toy type, where electronic toys - "3 battery-operated toys with buttons and switches that can be manipulated to produce lights, words, phrases, and songs" - were pitted against 'traditional' toys - "3 nonelectronic toys that also have the potential to teach animal names, colors, and shapes." Those electronic toys were also chosen on the premise that "they are marketed as educational toys that promote language development for children in this age range and are advertised as teaching animal names, colors, and shapes."

Describing results from 26 parent-infant dyads whereby pairs "engaged in 2 15-minute play sessions per toy set over a 3-day period" using electronic toys, non-electronic toys and also books (y'know those paper things), various outcomes were measured including child vocalisations, adult words and conversational turns. As per the opening sentence, toy type did seem to affect communication between parent and child. So: "Play with electronic toys is associated with decreased quantity and quality of language input compared with play with books or traditional toys." The author goes as far to say that set within other research in this area: "both play with traditional toys and book reading can be promoted as language-facilitating activities while play with electronic toys should be discouraged."

Being careful not to fall into any sweeping generalisations about how technology is 'all bad' for child development and beyond, bearing in mind where such discussions have previously led, I have to say that it there may be some important lessons to learn from the Sosa study results. That early years communication between parent and child is increasingly being realised to be pretty important is one part of discussions (see here for more information on the '30 million word gap' for example). That parents are also literally bombarded these days with various edu-toys and other gadgets often making some rather big claims is another aspect. The Sosa results hint that there might be a happy medium to strike between the old and the new when it comes to early play and communication (including reading) and that we should as parents, perhaps be mindful that electronic toys with their lights, sounds and various educational claims might not necessarily trump something a little less flashy. Similar sentiments might also apply to more pathological states too [2].

Music: William Shatner sings er... well, not for the easily offended.


[1] Sosa AV. Association of the Type of Toy Used During Play With the Quantity and Quality of Parent-Infant Communication. JAMA Pediatrics. 2015. Dec 23.

[2] Christakis DA. Rethinking Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. JAMA Pediatr. 2016 Jan 4:1-2.

---------- Sosa AV (2015). Association of the Type of Toy Used During Play With the Quantity and Quality of Parent-Infant Communication JAMA Pediatrics : 10.1001/jamapediatrics.2015.3753

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