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Did You Know: Toys Affect Child’s Language Development

A new study shows that electronic toys that make noises mute the conversations between parents and babies that are so important for language development.  A speech pathologist at Northern Arizona University conducted a study of parents and children in which three types of toys were given to the parents and their toddlers to play with:

1) Electronic toys that included a baby laptop, cellphone and talking farm;

2) Traditional toys that included wooden puzzle, a shape-sorter and rubber blocks;

3) Five board books.

She wanted to see if the type of toy made a difference to the language she’d hear. Turns out, it did. During 15-minute play sessions with electronic toys, parents said about 40 words per minute on average. Parents’ word count jumped to about 56 words per minute for traditional toys. And books prompted even more language, with parents saying about 67 words per minute.

Between 10 and 16 months old, these babies were just on the cusp of speaking. Their language-like sounds showed similar patterns to those of their parents, with electronic toys eliciting the fewest sounds and books eliciting the most.

Overall quantity wasn’t the only thing that changed. The quality of conversations, measured by the number of turn-taking, parent responsiveness and content-specific words (“piggy” while playing with the talking barn, for instance), was lower for electronic toys than for traditional toys and books. “I found that the types of toy really do have a big impact on what the parents do,” she says.

Story books and traditional toys that do not produce sounds give toddlers and parents the best chance to converse together as they play. How many times must a toddler hear a word in order to understand its meaning, remember it, and to be able to SAY the word so that it’s understandable? 100 times? 1000? 10,000? That’s a lot of conversation!

On a child’s first day in kindergarten teachers can tell which children have parents who converse and interact with them verbally. Those are the children who can express their thoughts, ideas and feelings in rich conversations and who have larger vocabularies. Parents whose interactions with their kids are less verbal, say, limited mostly to commands such as, “stop that!” or “get off the sofa!” produce children that are less verbal and who consider words to be less attractive, even punitive. They don’t grasp the “charm” of story books, and don’t know how to listen to teacher’s stories or directions, because the parents have not taught them the joy of listening, comprehending what they hear, and conversing back and forth.

In short, to create children who are highly verbal, give them traditional toys that don’t make noises and which allow for richer verbal interaction and lots of conversation during play. READ to your kids; beautiful new books and old favorites cost only pennies at Goodwill.

You really CAN create in your children a love of language and books, just by choosing toys that give you more “verbal bang for your buck”: wooden blocks, story books, a dump truck, a doll, and little toy animals cost lots less and create a much richer fantasy life than electronic battery-run noisy toys. And they create a calmer home where the seeds of creativity, good conversation, ability to focus, and a love of the written and spoken word are planted years before schooling even begins. Now that’s a great life!


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