While toys that light up decidedly do not fall under the category of screen time, you may notice that many parents who restrict screen time also restrict their child’s use of them. This may leave you wondering, “Are light up toys bad for babies and toddlers?“.
Wooden toys vs light up toys
You may have noticed a push from various parenting niches for children to have aesthetically pleasing, sometimes pricey, wooden toys. Whether it is a passing trend or not, remains to be seen.
The science behind this push is solid, though.
Wooden toys have numerous benefits over light up toys. They don’t break as easily, there is often an absence of harmful chemicals in them for babies and toddlers to mouth, they are better for the environment, and they encourage open-ended play.
Wooden toys (or even plastic, silent toys) being better for children than plastic light up toys is great information for every caregiver to have. It does not give parents and caregivers the whole story, though.
Are Light Up Toys Bad for Babies and Toddlers?
The infant and toddler years are a time of rapid brain development and language acquisition.
Studies show a relationship between toys that talk and make noise. Specifically, that the more noise a toy makes, the less verbal communication happens between caregivers and their children.
Many toys are designed and marketed with the purpose and claim to improve children’s vocabulary. This is enticing for parents, but the claims made by these toy companies about vocabulary benefits are unsubstantiated.
Not only are these “vocabulary building” toys incredibly difficult to understand due to the low quality sound devices contained within, but any speech therapist will tell you that babies and young toddlers need the “full picture” (being able to see mouth movement, body language, ect.) to best help their speech development along.
You simply won’t find toys that talk in a speech therapists office. What you will find is:
- Toys without batteries
- Toys of a child’s individual interests
- Open-ended toys that spark creativity and imagination
- Toys that are built well
More goes missing from a child’s play than verbal interaction when they are playing with flashy, loud toys, though.
Toys that talk and light up usually have another feature parents tend to overlook. An assigned purpose.
Light up toys typically have buttons or knobs that cause the sounds and lights. The toys sort of give children instructions on how to play with them.
Push the button and lights and sound happen. That’s the extent of play these toys offer.
Missing from these toys is the opportunity for children to develop the critical problem solving skills provided by toys such as wooden blocks, Legos, Magnatiles, or non-toy items, such as those involved in loose parts play.
There is a good reason that every “worst toys” list is filled with plastic, light up toys that are advertised as aides to a child’s development!
The advertising for these toys, however predatory, is well planned and well funded. It is easy to fall into the trap of wondering if your child’s toys are doing enough for their development.
It’s not so much that light up toys are bad, it is what goes missing from a child’s play that is a problem.
When picking out toys for your child, just remember that the more a toy does for your child, even in the form of a sound or light prompt, the less your child is required to do.
The first few years of life is when vital connections are made in a child’s brain. Their interactions with everyone and everything around them will shape the rest of their lives, toys included.
Light up toys and special needs
It is important to note that light up toys can be a great benefit to children with sensory impairments. The added auditory (hearing) and visual feedback provided by light up toys can provide opportunities for some children to learn cause and effect through play, where wooden or regular plastic toys would not.
These toys can also be helpful for autistic children and even children recovering from injury, as they provide a distraction.
In conclusion, light up toys are not optimal for a neurotypical child’s development. It’s not the toys themselves, though. It’s what they replace.