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Toys and language development

Many people have strong opinions about what type of play is best for encouraging language and cognitive skills in toddlers, accusing ‘modern’ playthings of stifling verbal interaction: it was once TV and videos, and now it's interactive tablet computers, many of which use software marketed as ‘educational’. There is actually little hard evidence to support this view: population surveys linking ‘screen time’ to developmental outcomes won't wash, as there are too many social and cultural confounders. A researcher from Flagstaff, Arizona thought it was worth doing a controlled trial (Sosa A. JAMA Pediatr 2015. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2015.3753). She recruited 26 infants aged 10–16 months, and each parent was supplied with three standardised sets of toys: electronic (baby laptop, talking farm, baby cell phone), traditional (wooden farm animal puzzle, shape-sorter, pictorial rubber blocks), and books (age-appropriate board picture books). Each parent played with their child for 15 minutes twice a day using each of the 3 toy sets, over a 3-day period. This was done in the home, and outcomes were not observed directly but recorded using an ingenious listening device, the language environment analysis (LENA) system: a sort of ‘spy in the babygro’ which recorded all verbal …

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