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Inside Pediatrics Podcast

BIRMINGHAM (Dec. 17, 2021) – This holiday season, many high-tech toys may be difficult to find due to a microchip shortage reported across the country. But that doesn’t mean you won’t be able to find a ‘smart’ toy for your child. 

Plenty of low-tech toys will be available this season, and Meghan Amerson, the outpatient speech supervisor at Children’s of Alabama, says those are often better for your child’s development. 

“I think that this is a great time to really go back to the basics, and go back to those toys that have been tried-and-true and always worked for language learning aspects,” Amerson said. 

Her favorites include some of the classics, such as blocks, books and stacking rings. They may not be considered the coolest toys, but they are more effective than their cooler cousins at helping your child learn. 

“As soon your baby is born, they’re hearing and learning social interactions,” Amerson said. “They start communicating at birth—different kinds of cries tell you what they need—so it’s important to start interacting with them, reading with them and building blocks with them. Talk about what you’re doing during your day to get those basic skills of language learning started as early as possible.” 

Interacting with your child is key, Amerson said. That’s why toys with screens, while not necessarily bad, are not the best choices for learning. 

“It’s important to remember that a screen can be a great distraction, and of course we all use screens at some time, and that is OK,” Amerson said. “But remember the importance of actually getting down on the level of your child and getting that actual face time so they’re getting that social interaction and cues of eye contact and facial expressions.” 

Amerson said face time is especially important during the COVID-19 pandemic because, with many people masking, facial interactions in public aren’t as common. 

Toys that make noise 

As you shop for toys, you should also consider the noises they make. According to Missy Kemp, audiology supervisor at Children’s of Alabama, sounds above 85 decibels (like the noise from a leaf blower or some lawnmowers) can be bad for your child. 

“I think it’s important for parents to remember when you’re listening in the store that your arms are longer, so you’ll be holding (the toy) farther away, and the sound won’t be as loud for you,” Kemp said. “It will be louder for the child.” 

If your child has a toy that makes sounds above 85 decibels, you can muffle it by placing a piece of clear packing tape over the speaker. You can also download apps that measure sounds.

“Time and loudness are the key things,” Kemp said. “One loud sound that’s very short may not do anything, but listening to loud sounds over a long period of time, we know that can damage our hearing, and so we want to be mindful of how long our children are exposed to loud sounds.”