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The Young Mind

Updated: Sep 24, 2022

Face time for the best learning

By Dr. Jon Lieff

A recent study in JAMA Pediatrics looked at what toys might be best to foster social interaction and language skills.

Because we are so busy today, the time we play should be maximized if possible. We are all dazzled by electronic toys that have sounds and lights and produce words and music. But are these the best toys for an infant?

The study compared electronic toys (a baby com­puter, a talking farm, and a baby cell phone), traditional toys (wooden puzzles, shape sorters, and rubber blocks with pictures), and board books (farm, animal, shape, and colors). The research was not perfect because the play occurred at home, so the researchers could analyze the sounds of the interactions during the play. But, it showed definite results.

The electronic toys grabbed the attention of the in­fants but lead to less interaction back and forth with parents and fewer words than the other toys. The children made fewer sounds, which is important for their communication skills. Playing with books produced slightly more interaction than traditional toys, but not much. The difference with electronic toys was great compared to either books or traditional toys.

There are a lot of reasons to think that books in inter­action with their parents are very good for infants. But, both the books and the traditional toys definitely were better for socialization, interaction, and learning. Ultimately learning words in a loving, active interaction is what is most important for the future. Later words about shape and size help math.

The back-and-forth conversations do much more to teach language, also role-playing, taking turns, and ac­cepting the lead of the parent, and they also help show the parents about the baby’s strengths.

Electronic toys are expensive, and they are not as good as either books or traditional toys. They should only be used for very specific purposes. They can grab the baby’s interest, but this must be translated into interactions with others.


Dr. Jon Lieff graduated from Yale College with a B.A. in mathematics and Harvard Medical School with an M.D. He is a practicing psychiatrist with spe­cialties in geriatric psychiatry and neuropsychiatry. He is a specialist in the interface of psychiatry, neurology, and medicine. Visit his blog at

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