ELECTRONIC toys that produce light, words and songs, encourage a poorer response to verbal interaction among infants than when they play with books, according to a recent study.
The researchers at Northern Arizona University carried out the study among children aged 10 to 16 months, in their own homes and found that the infants vocalised less and there were fewer adult words used, fewer conversational back-and-forth turns with their parents and less production of content-specific words, when they played with electronic toys, in comparison with books.
The results come as no surprise to Niamh Fortune, lecturer at the Froebel Department of Primary and Early Childhood Education at Maynooth University, who says books win hands-down, if compared to the benefits of electronic toys.
“I wouldn’t dismiss electronic toys altogether — they are part of life now, and I have an 18-month-old myself, but they must be monitored — not used as a babysitter in a passive way,” she says.
“Children need modelling of good language and it’s best that we as parents be actively involved in the scenario.
"For example, if there is a nursery rhyme playing then if an adult sings along with them, that helps develop the phonetic awareness of rhythm and rhyme.”
However, there is no doubt in her mind that books are far better for a child’s language development.
“If children of that age are holding a board book, for instance, they are developing the immersion stage of reading, such as turning the pages and also experiencing the whole array of skills associated with expressiveness and receptiveness in language.”
When a parent is involved in the interaction therefore, the child learns from the modelling of the reading process, including the musicality — the emergent of rhythm, rhyme and repetitive sounds of language, says Fortune.
“A child is never too young to start interacting with books. And it’s good if a parent can build up a routine around reading.
"It doesn’t have to be at night when busy parents can be tired themselves; it can be in the morning, or some other suitable time, or at weekends.
"A 16-month-old can turn a page and that closeness of that interaction with a parent creates a wonderful bond.”
Fortune would not “tar all electronic toys with the one brush” though — some are better than others.
At the end of the day, it’s up to the parent to monitor their child’s engagement with them.
The benefits of early-stage books for infants are:
* They encourage the early stages of emergent reading — holding books, turning the pages, and awareness of how they work.
* They help model language expressiveness and receptiveness.
* Early-stage books give a child a strong sense of rhythm and rhyme.
* They create an opportunity to bond with a parent.
* They help develop hand-eye co-ordination
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