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Is 'Hello Barbie' Good For Kids?

Northwestern experts help parents pick developmentally appropriate toys

EVANSTON, Ill. -- "Hello Barbie,” with its speech recognition feature and Wi-Fi capability, can hold a pretty sophisticated conversation with a child. Naturally such toys are increasingly alluring to parent and child alike.

But the best toys encourage more parental interactions with the child, according to pediatric speech-language specialists who will be featured at a free event at Northwestern Nov. 18.

The event is hosted by Northwestern University’s Center for Audiology, Speech, Language, and Learning. 

“Noisy toys that talk, sing and play music don’t provide much opportunity for you to engage with your children, and that interaction is how your children learn to communicate with others,” said certified speech-language pathologist Denise Boggs Eisenhauer, director of speech, language, and learning services at Northwestern.

Expert pediatric speech-language pathologists and audiologists in the School of Communication will discuss:

  • Why certain toys are developmentally appropriate for various age ranges
  • Specific toys that enhance speech, language and communication development
  • Tips for avoiding “noisy toys” to prevent hearing loss
  • Headphone and earbud use by teens

The idea for the program was driven by clinical faculty members who routinely see children playing with toys like a talking mini laptop computer that teaches the ABC’s.

While children are naturally drawn to electronic toys, parents should also remember classic toys, said speech-language pathologist Judy Roman, an American Speech Language Hearing Association board-certified specialist in childhood language.

“Building blocks and other toys that promote pretend play and storytelling foster language development,” Roman said.  “Any toys that result in families playing together, building upon each others’ imaginations and creating new stories will encourage the best developmental results.”

If a child is playing with a toy that makes a farm animal noise, parents can engage their child by reading a similar book with them, describing the animals and practicing together the sounds the animals make.

In terms of child development, it’s better to have an engaged parent and a simple toy than an expensive talking toy and no opportunity for interaction, Roman said.

Toys to Talk About will be held from 5:30 to 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 18 at Northwestern’s Center for Audiology, Speech, Language and Learning, 2315 Campus Drive. Both the event and parking are free. RSVP by Nov. 16 to NUCASLL@northwestern.edu or 847-491-3165.

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