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Last Updated: Friday, 27 April 2007, 23:05 GMT 00:05 UK
Baby toys 'no long-term benefit'
toddler and mother in swimming pool
Getting out and interacting were more important factors
Babies do not gain long-term benefits from having stimulating toys to play with, researchers say.

Toys and books had a major link to children's development at the time, but the Institute of Education found no significant future associations.

The most important factor, especially for mothers with little education, was playing with and talking to their children, said the London institute.

It looked at data since 1991 on thousands of children in the Avon area.

Social skills

The report's lead author, Dr Leslie Gutman, said toys and books in the home did have an impact on children's physical co-ordination and social development.

"It just doesn't have an effect 12 months later," she said.

To have parents read to their children is much more important than having a hundred books
Lead author Leslie Gutman

"Toys and books have their place and do help children develop but what is important is having the parents interact with the child.

"To have parents read to their children is much more important than having a hundred books."

Children whose mothers took them out had substantially better social skills and motor development - for example, using a pencil or tying shoelaces.

In line with other research, the study found that mothers with higher education and family incomes reported more interactions with their children.

For the most part, though, the effect of income levels was small and diminished as babies got older.

Family course

"A good level of education is therefore not only important for the individual, but also for their family and may have effects across generations," said the report, compiled for the Department for Education and Skills.

For policymakers, targeting mothers on the basis of their educational attainment, rather than merely income or work status, might be most effective, it said.

A spokeswoman for the department said the government wanted to make sure all families got the help they needed but recognised that more needed to be done to help the disadvantaged.

"We are piloting a new family learning course for those parents and carers of pre-school children who have literacy and numeracy needs, to help them support their children up to the age of five."

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