Toy stores are stocked with shelves upon shelves of enticing baby toys that are meant to ignite your baby’s senses, supposedely, to help him learn better. There are toys that sing and light up; toys that talk and rattle; toys with colorful designs and interesting textures. But, does multi-sensory learning really help your baby learn better? A recent study, published in Developmental Science, says it depends.
“In the past, there have been reports that infants couldn’t learn if it’s just visual [stimulus] alone or auditory [stimulus] alone,” says senior author Dr. Chia-Huei Tseng, director of the Infant Research Lab at the University of Hongkong. Past research say that infants benefit if it’s visual and auditory together, she continues. Their research has found however, that this isn’t always the case. They discovered that the visual and auditory stimuli had to match.
The researchers gathered data from a group of 8- to 10-month old babies. They found that the babies were only able to benefit and learn from multi-sensory toys – those with both visual and auditory stimulation – if they were “related” or “congruent”. For example, a picture of a happy face should come with a laughing or giggling sound or that a sad face should come with a crying sound.
“How to match stimulation from visual, audio, tactile, and other sensory systems into a unified manner is the key to help our little ones fully benefit from it,” says Tseng.
Further research has to be done for other multi-sensory pairings like visual and touch, says Tseng. There are also cultural differences to be considered. “Different cultures will define different things as related or non-related.”
Multi-sensory or not, experts agree that parents should not neglect baby’s playtime and should pick baby’s toys with care. “Play is important because it impacts a child’s physical, social, emotional and cognitive development,” Dr. Maria Isabel Osabel-Quilendrino, a developmental pediatrician at the Philippine General Hospital, told Smart Parenting.
“Toys that are appropriate for small children are those that appeal to the senses and allow them significant interaction or manipulation given their limited motor capabilities,” she adds.
The most important educational toy your baby can ever have, however, is you. “The parents are the first and most significant ‘playthings’ of babies. They smell you, hear you, reach out and feel your body. You are the most interactive toy your baby can ever get.”
Sources: Sept. 8, 2015. "Infant learning: Is more really better?". eurekaalert.org June 24, 2015. "Bimodal Infant Learning". youtube.com