Header image- picture of three green batteries in someone's hand. The text reads "3 reasons to remove the batteries from battery-operated toys".

3 Reasons to Remove the Batteries from Battery-Operated Toys

As Speech and Language Therapists we tend to consider ourselves as quite the toy connoisseurs. We can often have strong opinions about toys and which are the best toys to encourage language skills. Open-ended toys vs close-ended toys, battery-operated toys vs toys with no batteries… phew- the opinions are strong. But parents & caregivers don’t tend to have such strong opinions, and so children often have a range of toys at home, including many battery-operated toys. In this post, you’ll learn 3 reasons why you should encourage parents and caregivers to remove the batteries from their child’s battery-operated toys.

What are battery-operated toys?

Battery-operated, battery-powered, electronic toys… whatever you call them. They’re the toys that produce lights, movement, words, sounds, and songs when you press a button. They are often promoted as toys that encourage language, play, and academic skills for young children. But that is rarely the case. Although they are good at commanding the child’s attention, they’re not so great at encouraging language or other skills during play (see Sosa, 2015).
Keep reading for why I encourage families to remove batteries from their child’s battery-operated toys.

In the background is a faded image of a child's battery-operated toy. The text overlay reads, "although battery operated toys are good at commanding the child's attention, they're not so great at encouraging language or other skills during play"

3 reasons why you should remove the batteries from battery-operated toys

  1. You want the child to be active during play. You want the child to be the one making sounds, speaking, doing actions, moving pieces, making choices about what will happen, etc. But if the toy is an all-singing, all-dancing, battery-operated one, then children are less likely to vocalise and interact during their play. The toy has commanded all of their attention, so their play will become more passive. Meaning there will be less language input from the parents/caregivers because…
  2.  When the toy is the one doing all the things, adults are less likely to participate in the play. So the child is less likely to hear and learn new language (see Sosa, 2015). The more the toy does, the less the child does. Encourage parents and caregivers to take out those batteries, so both the adults and child can become more active and communicative during play.
  3. Many battery-operated toys are dangerously noisy. Safe listening levels for children are no more than 75dB, but many children’s toys can be 85dB or above, (ASHA, n.d). If children hold toys close to their ears, then a 90dB sound can grow to be as loud as 120dB, which is extremely damaging. So removing batteries from noisy, battery-operated toys can save little ears from pain and hearing loss. Check out the ‘Annual Noisy Toys list©‘ from the Sight & Hearing Association for an up-to-date list of the noisiest children’s toys.

*The* viral reel all about ditching the batteries

I went viral on Instagram, and let me tell you, it was wild. People have strong opinions about toys, seriously! In the end I had to turn off the comments because it all got a bit much. But if you like a side of humour with your evidence-based practice, then this reel might be right up your street…

Here’s when you should keep batteries in toys

Battery-operated toys do have their place. There are some children who are only motivated by the noisy, all-singing-all-dancing toys. And that’s OK.
If you’re working with a child who is highly motivated by battery-operated toys, and these toys are helping to develop their language and play skills, then I’m all for keeping batteries IN. You can use language facilitation strategies, such as following their lead, and pausing while playing with the child. You can use the toy to encourage language in play. You can show the child other ways to play with that toy.
That’s all OK. If it’s working, keep doing it. We know that there’s no “one-size-fits-all”, and individualising our interventions is key.

And, I should add, I’m not completely anti-battery operated toys anyway! They are great for working on cause and effect, requesting, etc. (though you can do that just as effectively with other things and in daily routines). However, for children who are working on other play and language skills, and battery-operated toys don’t seem to be helping, my advice is to encourage parents and caregivers to ditch those batteries and encourage wider, more open-ended, language-rich play!

I’d love to know your thoughts about removing the batteries from battery-powered toys. Drop a comment below and let’s chat.

Sosa, A. (2015). ‘Association of the Type of Toy Used During Play with the Quantity and Quality of Parent-Infant Communication’. JAMA Pediatrics, Vol.170(2), pp.132-137.

ASHA website. (No date). https://www.asha.org/public/hearing/noisy-toys/. Website accessed January 2022.

Sight and Hearing Association. http://www.sightandhearing.org/Services/NoisyToysList%C2%A9.aspx Website accessed January 2022.