Research shows that the type of toys matters when it comes to how parents speak

September 16, 2015 by Mike Mcdade
Research by Penn State Brandywine Associate Professor Jennifer Zosh looks at the impact of electronically "enhanced" toys on parent-child interactions. Credit: Penn State

As the traditional toys of the past are rapidly replaced by electronically "enhanced" toys, Penn State Brandywine Associate Professor of Human Development and Family Studies Jennifer Zosh is asking the question: "What impact do these toys actually have on the way we interact with kids today and the way they learn?"

Zosh, along with her colleagues, recently published a study in Mind, Brain, and Education that addressed this question. In the study, they looked at how parent-child interactions differed when playing with a traditional, non-electric shape sorter toy versus an electronically "enhanced" version of the toy, which had been turned into a bus with lights, sound effects and a voice.

Zosh said the researchers chose to use a shape sorter toy for the study because "our ability to think about spatial concepts is incredibly important. Research is beginning to suggest a link between how much hear about spatial concepts and their spatial cognition, which is a building block for things like science, technology, engineering and math skills."

Half of the parent-child pairs that participated in the study played with the electronic shape sorter, while the other half played with the traditional, non-electric version. The researchers recorded the sessions between the parents and children, specifically looking at how much the children heard in both situations.

"We know that one of the biggest ways that you can support kids learning is to interact with them," said Zosh. "Parents are the most powerful tools a child has for learning. We wanted to know how the kinds of toys parents and children play with impact that interaction."

So, does playing with stand in the way of high quality parent-child interactions?

Zosh said that parents in both scenarios talked at about the same rate per minute. However, "when we looked at how much kids heard about spatial concepts, children in the electronic condition heard substantially fewer words per minute. This effect held even when we added in the spatial words uttered by the toy itself." She added that parents who used the electronic toy with their child also talked more about the toy itself and less about shapes and spatial concepts.

Given the team's findings, Zosh isn't suggesting that parents should do away with all electronic toys. Instead, she says, opt for a mix of traditional and electronic toys and don't be distracted by the bells and whistles.

"The take-home point is to think about how you are interacting with your children and not to let the toys do the talking," she said. "Talk about what it is you want your child to learn. And remember: have the ability to make play with anything meaningful, even cardboard boxes and plastic food storage containers."

Explore further: Consider eye safety when toy shopping

Related Stories

Consider eye safety when toy shopping

December 22, 2012
(HealthDay)—When you're holiday shopping for toys, remember to think about eye safety.

Parent-child interactions contribute to language success

September 9, 2015
A new study co-authored by a UT Dallas professor in the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences details that the quality of interactions between young children and their parents is just as important—if not more important—as ...

Playing with puzzles and blocks may build children's spatial skills

January 28, 2015
Play may seem like fun and games, but new research shows that specific kinds of play are actually associated with development of particular cognitive skills. Data from a nationally representative study show that children ...

Recommended for you

Researchers find common psychological traits in group of Italians aged 90 to 101

December 12, 2017
In remote Italian villages nestled between the Mediterranean Sea and mountains lives a group of several hundred citizens over the age of 90. Researchers at the University of Rome La Sapienza and University of California San ...

New therapy can help schizophrenia sufferers re-engage socially

December 11, 2017
A new therapy aimed at helping young people suffering from schizophrenia to reconnect and engage with the world around them has had promising results, according to a new University of Sussex-led study.

Certain books can increase infant learning during shared reading, study shows

December 11, 2017
Parents and pediatricians know that reading to infants is a good thing, but new research shows reading books that clearly name and label people and objects is even better.

Twitter can reveal our shared mood

December 11, 2017
In the largest study of its kind, researchers from the University of Bristol have analysed mood indicators in text from 800 million anonymous messages posted on Twitter. These tweets were found to reflect strong patterns ...

Infant brain responses predict reading speed in secondary school

December 11, 2017
A study conducted at the Department of Psychology at the University of Jyväskylä, Finland and Jyväskylä Centre for Interdisciplinary Brain Research (CIBR) has found that the brain responses of infants with an inherited ...

Many different types of anxiety and depression exist, new study finds

December 8, 2017
Five new categories of mental illness that cut across the current more broad diagnoses of anxiety and depression have been identified by researchers in a Stanford-led study.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.