With the holiday season upon us, gift guides, wish lists, and toy commercials are everywhere! If you have ever surprised your little one with a new toy only to have them show more interest in the box, you know that it’s not about the toy.
The definition of play is “an activity for enjoyment and recreation rather than a serious or practical purpose.” For children, that is pretty much all their day! That means there are an unlimited number of opportunities for play and learning. When a caregiver pairs words with the child’s actions or describes what is happening, language learning happens! While this can occur with beautiful wooden toys, it can also occur while banging pots and pans, pouring water, or throwing a penny into a fountain. It’s the interaction that matters, not the toy.
This is one of the reasons studies show that electronic toys do not promote language development as much as traditional toys. Screens are especially concerning. In fact, a recent study found that the more time children between the ages of six months and two years spent using screens such as smart phones, tablets, and electronic games, the more likely they were to experience speech delays. In fact, for every 30 minute increase in daily hand held screen time, there was a 49% increased risk of expressive language delays. This includes “educational” games and apps!
In another study, mothers of children who responded to what their baby was interested in had larger comprehension vocabularies at 13 months. This means that when we follow our child’s lead, we can help accelerate their language learning! Play can occur anywhere for a child! That means the opportunities for language learning are endless! When we restrict our view of play to only things that come from a toy aisle, we miss opportunities to build speech and language.
While there is nothing wrong with purchasing the newest toy craze, it’s important to remember how language learning happens. The magic happens within the interaction, not because of the toy. Talking to your child, reading to your child, and singing to your child will always trump the latest toy. Ultimately, time spent with you is the best gift you can give a child!
Brooke Andrews, M.A. CCC-SLP is owner of The Speech Dynamic and offers speech therapy in homes and schools across Houston. Brooke specializes in speech and language development to toddlers and preschoolers and provides in-home speech therapy to families in Houston.
American Academy of Pediatrics (2017). Handheld Screen Time Linked with Speech Delays in Young Children. Retrieved from https://www.healthychildren.org/English/news/Pages/Handheld-Screen-Time-Linked-with-Speech-Delays-in-Young-Children.aspx