As parents, we always want to give our kids “the best.” The best schools, the best sports teams, the best education, and the best toys. Somehow, if we give our children the best of everything, we increase our odds of them growing up to be successful, happy, contributing members of society. Or do they?
It’s not uncommon for me to get asked, “What are the best toys for my child?” I’m a little old-school and have always said, “Nothing beats a great book read with child or a simple toy that promotes imaginative play.” Imagine my surprise when I read in the February 2016 edition of JAMA Pediatrics (an academic pediatrics journal that publishes research results) an article titled Association of the Type of Toy Used During Play With the Quantity and Quality of Parent-Infant Communication.
In essence, it answered the long-time question, “Which toy is best?” The study looked at electronic toys vs. traditional toys or books and measured what type of toy was associated with better parent-infant communication. The electronic toys were marketed as “educational” and claimed to promote language development (sounds good, right?). The toys were typically battery operated and had buttons that produced lights, sounds, music, words, and phrases when activated. The traditional toys included blocks, puzzles, stacking cups, and toys that encouraged “symbolic play,” like tea sets and dolls.
The results showed that books were best, followed by the traditional toys. The electronic toys were dead last. The results measured were adult words, conversational turns, parental responses, content-specific words, and the child’s vocalizations.
In short, to improve your child’s communication skills, read first and foremost with your child. Second, buy basic toys. And lastly, save your money. The fancy, electronic toys aren’t that great for a child’s language development. Now I’m not saying that all electronic toys are bad (you’ll find plenty at our house), but don’t feel pressured into spending a lot of money on the latest toys. Some books and blocks are great!
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