Stop Trying to Teach Your Baby Stuff

baby in box
The best toy ever!
Recently, I was looking around at the hurricane of stuff my 11-month-old babies had scattered all over our den, and thought to myself, without a hint of irony, "Maybe they need more toys." Hear me out: They have links and books and balls that rattle, but I wondered if maybe they should have more stimulating, animated toys. They're at the age now where they're pulling levers and opening lids to elicit that high-pitched, battery-operated, "tee-hee" sound or carnival-style music. They'll push that big orange button like ten thousand times, bopping every time the creepy elf-like songs start. So are those blocks boring, old news to them now?

As it turns out, no, not at all. In a recent study, researchers determined that infants seek out information on their own, without the need for fancy toys or "educational" tools. If you give a baby an interesting environment to explore, they'll learn from that more than any toy.

I decided to test the theory the other day, trying to figure out what toys they may or may not need. Would they spend more time on the musical toys with all the bells and whistles or a long chain of plastic links? Well, they seemed sort of drawn to all of them, but what did they find the most fascinating? Let's see: One boy found the dog's pink Frisbee and spent a long time banging on that, clapping it together in his hands, putting it in his mouth, dragging it around the room with him. And then, my other boy, spent a good amount of time over by the heating grate (don't worry, it wasn't hot), just clanking on that and making sounds. I think at one point, the boys both wanted my water bottle, first sucking on it and then rolling it across the room. They picked up a book or two, not even looking at the pages, just flipping them around. A few times, they took a break to crawl over to the sliding glass door and look outside.

So what did I learn? Well, first off, I figured out that they probably don't need more toys if they find a wooden spoon and a catalog to be wild entertainment. But I also realized that I don't need to worry so much about whether or not I'm giving them the right "tools" to learn -- they're doing just fine on their own!

As parents, I think we often feel guilty, like we need to be giving our babies more, more, more stuff. We see some cool thing that a friend has and feel like maybe our baby just has to have that too. Or, that we're doing our child a disservice by not utilizing the baby piano that both plays music and teaches them their Spanish.

Every now and then though, my babies gesture or make a sound or reach for something that reminds me that they're little sponges, picking up on everything. It's not words I've taught them or anything I've encouraged -- it's just what they've discovered for themselves. For example, I noticed the other day that when my dog barks, one of my boys responds with his own "oof oof" grunting sound, smiling away. I didn't teach him that, I didn't ask him what a dog says, he just felt the need to imitate it, to make the same sound with his own mouth, and gets a big kick out of doing it too. I had no idea he was absorbing the dog's sounds like that, that it would peak his interest like that. Meanwhile, I sit there in front of him going, "Say Mama, say Mama, ma-ma, ma-ma, ma-ma, ma-ma." And he just smiles and gives me a blank stare. Sure, he might say it as he's crawling over to me, but not when I'm trying to force it. Ever notice how they never do their "tricks" when you ask them to? Yeah, they're too smart for that.

Clearly, babies are just ripe to absorb everything, curious and eager to explore their world. But even though they're just babies, it's really on their own terms. We don't need to get in their faces with educational tools and numbers and the alphabet -- instead, we should just sit back and see what they discover on their own, what draws them in, what they're putting together from their vantage point, just a foot or two off the ground. I'm not saying a parent shouldn't play and interact with their baby, but I think it's important to let your child take the lead sometimes, let him or her show you what's peaking their interest, even if it is a plastic pink Frisbee. And save the high-tech toys and computer programs for when they're old enough to whine and beg and cry about how much they wanna, wanna, just gotta have it.

Do you have a lot of "educational toys" for your baby? Do you think they've worked?

baby activities, baby development, baby toys, play


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Just when you think you've found the perfect thing for your child, they love the box more than what was in it. It goes on like that for quite some time. Kids are funny and only really need a stimulating environment.

qrex912 qrex912

My daughter has always preferred the boxes and wrappings that her high tech toys came in. I just couldn't believe my eyes on her first birthday when she shrieked and laughed in a pile of wrapping paper, after abandoning her new toys.

NatAndCo NatAndCo

My boys love electronics apparently. I bought them all these ringing, crinkly, colorful toys but their favorite things are the tv remote or my phone or a computer keyboard. So now they have their own remote and keyboard to play with/chew on. Baby toys be damned.

the4m... the4mutts

I agree that toys are not a nessecity, and definately not something they need more and more of.

But I disagree that we don't need to teach them, or guide them to the kind of learning that we find best for them.

For example: all my older kids could read before entering kindergarten. They didn't learn that on their own. I read to them all from day 1. Newspapers, books, magazines, street signs, everything.

We do need to teach our kids not to put things in their mouths. Not to pull up on the glass coffee tables. How to read. How to speak. They pick up on certain things, but they only learn fully by interraction from adults speaking to them, showing them, TEACHING them

GlowW... GlowWorm889

Babies ALWAYS learn more from face-to-face interaction with people in their lives than they do from educational toys. This has been proven in research time and time again. Not to say that babies don't need toys (toys can be part of a stimulating environment), but expecting your child to learn everything from an educational toy or DVD is doing your child a disservice.

nonmember avatar HS

I agree with 4mutts. By observing our children, we see what they"ve picked up on their own. We can then use that opportunity to expand on it. The next time the dog barks and your son imitates, you can use that engaging moment to teach him "dog". He's focused on it and that's where their most likely to pick up new info we give them and make connections. My son's 3 and has started reading books, can spell words, recognize words and a host of other things. All by my recognizing and engaging what he's learning naturally.

Mommy... MommyOfOne2710

I never bought into those educational toys. My son likes his pounding board, his xylophone, and his plastic links. And he loves his books. We've received educational toys as gifts from relatives and he doesn't play with them much.

Anna Potts

my dd 10 months only wants to play with mamas pots and pans and the toilet paper roll and she has every toy under the sun takes up my entire living room and two baskets and she only plays with them about 10 mins a day she is more interested in watching me and opening doors. i figure toys are more of an away thing used to keep her happy in the car or the resturant. kids want to learn the dont need toys for that so save some money

nonmember avatar zizzler

A bit off topic, but: I don't think teaching your kids to read and write at a young age is much of an advantage. What then? They're bored through kindergarten and first grade...possibly losing their interest or passion for school before it even gets going. Practically ANY normal child can learn to read before kindergarten, it's not some magical advantage or indication of intelligence. Same for ppl who teach their kids to list colors and numbers etc. I once watched a show about genius children where one couple taught their son how to add really huge numbers at a young age. When they had his IQ tested, he got a really low score. Turns out he was a one trick pony and couldn't tie his shoes or say what sound a cat makes, because his parents had been so intent on teaching him math. It's an extreme situation but I think everyone can learn from it--Intelligence isn't about parroting info, it's about dynamic thinking, which won't come from memorizing colors and learning to read pre-k! ;)

littl... littlelambe2

Dear zizzler...

I learned to read before I entered kindergarten at age four. By first grade, I was reading chapter books. Yes, reading chapter books by age five - the age when most kids are starting to learn to read. I wasn't bored through grade school (well, sone classes in highschool). And learning to read early wasn't a disservice. It opened up a whole new world and even more passions. Think of all the things you can learn and explore on your own when you can read!!

My parents had the option of putting me forward another grade, but declined because they were afraid that I wouldn't grow well socially being two years younger than my peers. That didn't stop me, though. By the time I graduated highschool - at 17 - I had already completed first year university courses in English, French, Biology, Chemistry, Math, and Psychology.

Kids need freedom to learn about the environment around them on their own terms. However, there is nothing wrong with encouraging a child past that.

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