Have you ever wondered just how educational "educational toys" are?
Us too. So let's nerd out a bit.
Today's topic: Tactile learning and toys.
Learning in early childhood is all about exploration of the world around them. About sensory exposure. Sight is not yet fully developed-- so babies rely on other, better developed senses to explore early on. Aside from hearing, the sense of touch is the primary connection to the outside world. When a baby grasps or holds an object, that tactile contact with the world sends signals to the brain, where neurons begin to make connections-- "painting a picture" in their mind of the physical attributes of the object (i.e., texture, size, shape, temperature, etc.).
After 8-ish months babies begin to develop fine motor skills. Fine motor skills are simpler/smaller actions, like holding or grasping an object in their fingers, wiggling their toes, or moving their arms up and down. Then as vision starts to come more "into focus"-- the brain starts to integrate the input of these two senses-- which is when hand-eye coordination first starts to develop. Babies are understandably fumbly and clumsy at first, but tactile play is a way of stimulating these processes and getting young children to experience the relationship their actions have with their environment.
So back to the question at hand: Are tactile toys educational?
Sure. Just like petting a goat, picking up a rock, or smashing avocados between your fingers. No well informed early childhood educator will discourage any form of sensory play--its crucial. By the same token, not many educators will promote a specific tactile toy over general sensory exploration of the world, and if they do it's probably a toy that doesn't require batteries or have a screen--like blocks, a puzzle, or a sandbox.
So umm, why would you bring this up if your product is not blocks or sand?
When we designed JamBebe the goal was diverse music exposure at an early age. Our focus is on providing a fun music play experience, but if we can also sneak in some tactile play elements to touch, grasp, press, and turn--then technically I suppose you could make a case that tactile learning is happening. But then again couldn't you say that about every object?
So lets recap: Will tactile learning toys get your kid into Harvard?
There is no research evidence that tactile toys are better than simply interacting with the environment nor is there any evidence of a long term benefit into adulthood for children who play with tactile toys or any toy labeled educational for that matter. However, in these early formative years, the name of the game is promoting physical and cognitive development. One toy isn't the solution, but finding a fun music toy that promotes this development without annoying the life out of parents is a win for everybody.