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Do Talking Toys Really Help Develop Baby's Language Skills?

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Think your kid's talking toys are all educational? A new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Pediatrics says you shouldn't always believe the labeling on the box that says a toy promotes language development.

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Many parents buy talking toys, especially bilingual talking toys, to promote language development skills in babies and children. While the study asserts that early language environment influences a child's language ability, reading and academic success, talking toys that are labeled educational are, unfortunately, often misleading.

There's a boom in talking electronic toys claiming to help kids learn language skills, but researchers say that the "educational" value isn't always legit.

Families who participated in the Northern Arizona University study were given books, traditional non-electronic toys (think blocks, stacking cups, puzzles and so on) and electronic toys, and were told to play with the toys on three separate days. Researchers observed parent-infant communication during playtime with each toy, monitoring how much parents talked to their babies, number of child vocalizations, a parent's verbal responses to the child's noises, and specific words used by the parents in response.

Researchers found that nothing compares to vocal interaction during playtime better than a parent's voice to help baby develop language skills.

The researchers chose talking toys that were marketed as promoting language development skills for babies ranging between 10 and 16 months old.

But, as it turns out, they found that nothing compares to vocal interaction during playtime better than a parent's voice.

Although the research sample was small at 26 parents and almost all the subjects were white, college-educated moms, researchers say the data showed that the electronic talking toys fell short when it came to bolstering language skills because they lack interaction, and most parents tended not to talk to their child while the toy was talking. As learning is a social activity that requires interaction, the toys simply can't do the job alone.

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Heather Kirkorian, a child development researcher at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, told NPR that children's toys and apps are notorious for "making all sorts of grand claims about motor development, cognitive development and social development without having the research to back it up."

Kirkorian, along with the lead researcher of the study, Professor Anna Sosa of Northern Arizona University, agree that the best thing parents can do to facilitate language development skills in their children is to still actually talk to and interact with their kids in order to promote early language ability.

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