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Putting Relationship at the Center of Learning -Part 3

Putting Relationship at the Center of Learning -Part 3

Is there a nightmare in the toy box?

When I was a kid, none of my toys talked.  If you had enough money, you could buy a Chatty Kathy doll, pull a string, and the doll would say something.  Since Chatty Kathy with accessories would have cost .4% of my father’s annual salary ($19 then and something like $275 now based on the income from a similar job), there were no talking toys at my house.  Was that situation good for me or bad for me?

In reviewing a number of talking toys on, I did not find any direct claims that they would help children learn.  The implication of learning was indirect however, noting that your child would hear, for example, the alphabet, phonics, sing along to songs, and interact verbally with the toy.  Likely toy manufacturers have become somewhat gun shy of making direct claims ever since Disney was forced to make refunds for their Baby Einstein product, because it did not meet the educational claims [1].

What is research saying about talking toys?  A study published in 2016 by Anna V. Sosa, Ph.D. compared child parent interaction with three different sets of toys [2].  The children were 10 – 16 months old.  One set of toys was electronic and chosen because they are marketed as educational toys.  One set was traditional toys like a farm animal chunky wooden puzzle.  The last set was a set of board books.  All toys had three consistent semantic themes of animal names, colors, and shapes.

What were the results?  When playing with electronic toys there were fewer adult words, conversational turns, parental responses, content-specific words and less child vocalization than during the play with other toys or books.  It appears, per Dr. Sosa, that parents tend to let the toys do the talking.  From this study and what we have already reviewed in earlier articles in this series regarding language development, the reduction in face-to-face communication would have a negative effect on language ability development.

Dr. Sosa states that the study scope was relatively small, and that further research is needed.  However this study is one among a series of studies that we will touch bases on in this series that consistently indicate that anything that reduces parent-child interaction has a negative effect on learning.

This becomes a greater concern when you consider how many changes have subtly taken place that are reducing face-to-face interactions.  In our next article, we will take a look at a number of changes that taken together are likely reducing face-to-face caregiver-child interaction significantly.

  1. Online at:
  2. Sosa, A. V. (2016). Association of the type of toy used during play with the quantity and quality of parent-infant communication. JAMA Pediatrics170(2), 132-137. DOI: 1001/jamapediatrics.2015.3753
Rick Doughty is a parent of three young adults and the Vice President of Administrative Services at Mt. Hood Community College in Gresham, Oregon. His wife Sally is a second grade teacher at a Title I school in Beaverton, Oregon. Rick is a Certified Trainer in brain-based learning through the Jenson Learning Corporation and has a master’s degree in communication studies. His passion is helping to make complex material and ideas useful and understandable. This passion is reflected in his book Fulfilled Kids, Fulfilled Parents which takes principles from neuroscience and helps us put them to use in parenting.

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