Electronic toys are plentiful in many nurseries and homes today as babies are drawn to their blinking, flashing, vibrating and beeping. Parents quickly learn that an electronic toy often quiets baby very quickly. However, there are some important developmental points to consider when choosing toys for baby.
DEVELOPMENTAL TOYS AND BABY’S BODY MOVEMENT
If you watch a baby use an electronic toy, usually you see a hand move to get to the toy and a then a finger move to push a button. Then the finger continues to move to push more buttons with minor movements of the hand to reach the locations of the buttons. The toy is doing the activity and not the child. With an “unplugged” toy such as the rattle in the above photo, the baby must vigorously shake her arm to generate the interesting sound. Her entire arm moves as she mobilizes the hand, wrist, elbow, and shoulder joints and all of the related muscles. This develops hand-eye coordination, strengthens her grip, and she improves her balance as she plays with the non-electronic toys in various positions. For example, the baby in the above photo improves her balance tremendously as she shakes the rattle while laying on her side. Can you imagine a baby playing with an electronic toy in this same position? I have yet to see it. Learn to observe the parts of baby’s body moving to play with a toy.
When baby plays with a simple rattle she often hits herself in the head with the toy until she learns to coordinate her arm and hand while avoiding hitting herself. This is a skill developed through playing with hand-held developmental toys. Baby holds the rattle and hits herself in the head three, four, or five times and then figures out how to feel her arm move and avoids hitting herself again. Have you seen a baby hold an electronic toy and then hit herself gently while holding it? It is usually too large and too heavy for a baby to hold.
Choose toys fostering motor skill development of the entire body and not just the hands and fingers. Recently I saw a baby who played with quite a few electronic toys and she would take her middle finger and push on her Dad’s face. This is what she was learning from playing with the electronic toys. She learned to push a button and then something would happen. Maybe it would happen with Dad’s face as well, she thinks.
DEVELOPMENT OF SPEECH
When baby pushes a button on an electronic toy not only does a light flash, but usually a sound is also generated. This becomes quite intriguing to baby as she learns that she can make sounds by pushing buttons. However, it is useful to keep in mind that the button-pushing and sound-generating activity can become a substitute for baby’s voice. By this I mean that baby feels that she is expressing herself as she pushes the button and hears the “beep.” Often, I encourage parents to remove the battery from the toy and then put their face close to it. When baby pushes the button her mother or father can make the “beep” sound with exaggerated facial and lip movements. Soon baby may imitate mom or dad and make the sound herself. Babies learn to talk through imitation and are motivated by playful games such as this.
TOYS FOR SPECIAL OCCASIONS
A wise grandmother, former nursery school teacher, and leader of mommy and me groups for many years suggests reserving electronic toys for special occasions. “When you go to visit another family, then you can take the electronic toy out and they can be very quiet while they are playing with it.” Or when they are very fussy and nothing else seems to quiet them, then you can bring out the magic toy that shines and spins and soothes her anxious soul. By holding these toys for special occasions they possible entertain the baby for an extended period of time, as well.