Dr. Geary Recommends: The what and why of Cause-and- Effect toys.

In my practice, an important part of a "well-check up" is not only the physical exam but also engaging the baby or child to "think" in front of me. For older children, it is often a wonderful conversation. For younger children it is often observed in how they play. As your child grows, their developmental skills build on one another. A critical skill, cause-and-effect thinking, begins anywhere from about 7-9 months, and later is the foundation for the understanding of causality and complex operations. But immediately, it has an important role in empowering a child, realizing they have the ability to generate a response and have an effect on their environment. This realization is critical to language development. A child’s desire to communicate is based on learning that their actions, or words, cause a change. If they initially point to an object, and you answer with words and deliver the object, they will want to learn to ask with words. But in the period of pre-speech, they need to physically experience this relationship between action and response in order to later construct a sentence to obtain the desired response.

Cause-and-effect toys abound, but some in particular are special. While you can use simple household objects, such as a light switch or a rattle to demonstrate cause and effect, there are some wonderful toys out there to help you along. My favorite categories of cause-and-effect toys are pop-ups, hammering/rolling, and sound toys. In all of these, the baby learns that if she pushes, pulls, squeezes, shakes, or pokes, something magical occurs, and it happens consistently over and over. The key is to start simple - so they can master the task without getting frustrated. I suggest buying one at time. The toys are out there to continue to challenge, but one step at a time.


Offer, demonstrate, repeat. Until your child masters it. Start simple, with a task that is manageable. Banging, pushing, and pulling skills come naturally, but they do not necessarily know how to use them. Dialing, squeezing, tracks and turns are more complex, and require guidance. When your child succeeds in pulling a lever and seeing a bunny, she will smile and you will smile back. Then repeat! But, at least for me, I never liked Jack-in-the Boxes. Too much anticipation for a Scary Startle. I never understood how they got so popular.

Below are a few of my favorites:

1. The Galt Pop-Up Toy - from For Small Hands: Gently press these colorful wooden figures to make them bob up and down. Press them even harder and they pop up and out! A simple way to start the learning.

2. Battat Popup Pals - from Battat: Friendly animals, ready to pop out and play! No long wait- and no loud startle. The animals just open and look cute.

3. Klickety - from Fat Brain Toys: Push the pink bumpy ball in and the blue ball on the other side is pushed out.

The green and purple knobs on either side click in and out like click-pens while the bright orange and teal ball on top spins around and around. Each bumpy ball

moves, creates sound, and has a unique texture.

4. Pop-up Pals - from Ambi Toys: It features four brightly coloured figures that pop up when a button is hit with a hammer. This is a more advanced version of the Galt toy because it requires the use of a tool, the hammer. They both help your child learn the primary colors.

5. Pop Pop Piano - from Mirari: When your child presses a key on the piano, they not only hear a sound, they see a ball pop up. The clear dome guides the colorful balls into a different pipe, moving around as each note is played.

Once your child masters and enjoys these simple hammer, push, pull toys , they are ready for the next level, which can include balls rolling down tracks, dialing a phone (a lost art I suppose) squeezing, twisting etc. The idea is for them to feel the effect of their own intention put into action to garner a response. Heady stuff!

Remember: Please don’t leave your children unattended. And let us know if you have a wonderful product to recommend.

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