Toys and Communication

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As technology progresses, electronic children’s toys have become extremely compacted sources of educational materials. Due to the eye-catching visuals and fun sounds, the electronic toys promote increased interactions from children compared to basic, ‘old-fashioned’ toys, right?

The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) recently published an article in the ASHA Leader discussing that very topic. An associate professor of communications science and disorders at Northern Arizona University, Anna V. Sosa, was the lead author of a study regarding the subject of verbal interactions between parents and their children when using various types of toys distinguished by whether they were electronic (e.g. talking farms, baby cellphones) or basic, non-electronic toys (e.g. blocks, books, puzzles). The study, published in JAMA Pediatrics, focused on the type of toy used for play and how parents interactions with their children changed depending on the toy type.

Previous studies have already identified that children’s language development is influenced by the amount and quality of language exposure they receive. The general effect tended to highlight greater vocabulary growth and use by children if their parents used more words, as well as encouraging statements when interacting with them.

The study completed by Sosa and her team found that parents utilized the greatest number of words per minute with their children when playing with books, followed by puzzles and blocks. The least amount of words per minute between parent and child were noted with interactions involving electronic toys. The electronic toy interactions also turned out to demonstrate limited use of content-specific words, the very words the toy was meant to elicit, as well as the fewest number of conversational turns, child vocalizations, and parental responses – all integral parts for a child’s development of speech, language, and social norms.

It is highly recommended that parents do their research when considering the types of toys and interactions to expose their children to, with an emphasis on limiting play with electronic toys and increasing parent-child interactions. We know funneling through research articles can be a daunting task though, so always feel free to ask your friendly neighborhood SLP about this topic and other recommendations to promote your child’s speech and language development.

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