Your child sits on the floor with building blocks. For now, she’s only playing. But for her future self, it’s more than child’s play.
As she builds different structures, the neurons in her brain are also firing up. Firing up to make connections that develop her spatial intelligence skill. Wouldn’t it be great if all toys are as beneficial as this?
Yet research studies and expert opinions point to the fact that toys are not created equal. So what should you do as a parent? What science kits for kids, STEM toys or educational toys are worth getting? Which of them will support your child’s healthy brain development?
This Gally Kids infographic looks at some research studies and expert quotes to answer these questions.
1. For your newborn baby, YOU are the best toy.
A newborn loves the familiar. This world is not exactly as cozy and warm as the sac of amniotic fluid she used to inhabit.
You could buy the most expensive state of the art toys for your newborn. But none will ever be as important as you.
It is your soothing voice, your soft touch and your loving gaze that will make a significant imprint in your child’s brain.
The way you respond to her needs…
The time you spend reading her books…
The way you talk to her with a smile…
The many times you hold her close to your chest…
All of these will affect her language skills, her ability to solve problems, how well she will do in school and how she develops adult relationships. 1
Your positive and caring presence is brain food that will benefit her throughout her life.
So hold off on that 80,000-euro gold and diamond baby pacifier…
…because you know what? to your newborn, YOU are ENOUGH.
2. When looking for toys that speed up brain development, always go back to basics.
Playdough… Stacking Cups… Building blocks…wooden cars and road signs…
These traditional toys work like a charm when it comes to cognitive development.
Professor Trawick-Smith of the TIMPANI toy study reveals that in their research, simple and classic toys always rank high in promoting children’s intellectual, social and creative development.
There may be a new high-tech toy every year that’s touted to parents as the next best thing.
Some of them do look cool.
But always remember that play dough, which you can make at home in 10 minutes is just as beneficial (if not, better) to your toddler’s brain than all these 21st-century gadgets.
So if you feel guilty that your child doesn’t have the amazing new high-tech toy that the Joneses have, just remind yourself that that playdough you just made is doing more good to your child’s brain than all these new fancy gadgets.
3. Electronic toys may slow down your toddler’s speaking development. Speed up his language skills with books and traditional toys instead.
Language development experts disagree on many things.
But there’s one thing that they agree on:
The more words a child hears from his caregiver, the better it is for his language skills.
Talk to your child.
This may often feel like a one-sided conversation, but it isn’t. His brain is absorbing everything you say.
This is why some so-called educational electronic toys are a problem.
Dr. Anna D. Sosa Of Northern Arizona University studied three kinds of toys and their effects on parent and child communication.
The study showed that parents talk a lot to their children when they play with traditional toys or books.
But when children play with electronic toys, the interaction between parent and child drops.
Even the number of sounds an infant produces drops, too.
This decrease in the sounds and words produced may just get in the way of a child’s speech development.
Electronic toys may be good “babysitters” sometimes.
But they’re not the best toys for the development of your toddler’s language skills.
4. Toys like building blocks and puzzles can help develop spatial intelligence regardless of gender.
Spatial intelligence, an important skill in many STEM-related professions, is traditionally believed to be an exclusively “boy skill”.
However, a study by David Tzuriel and Gila Egozi concludes that this could not be further from the truth. And even better, anyone can learn it in a short span of time.
In the study, boys and girls went through a spatial skills training program.
At the start of the study, the girls had lower spatial intelligence scores than the boys.
But after 8 weekly sessions, the initial score difference no longer existed!
Yes! You read that right. Just 8 weekly sessions! 2 months! and the difference disappeared.
Spatial skill isn’t inherent nor gender-biased.
It’s all practice, dear Watson.
So why is it that boys tend to have their spatial skills more highly developed?
Scientists believe that this is because boys tend to play more with toys like building blocks and puzzles which develop spatial intelligence.
So what do you do as a parent?
Make sure that your child, whether girl or boy, has access to toys and activities that improve and develop her spatial abilities.
Easy as pie.
5. Don’t ignore musical toys and the arts. They reach parts of the brain that other activities can’t
Music and the arts are as important to brain development as science and technology.
Christopher Bergland from Psychology Today writes that many studies have proven that musical training plays a big part in children’s brain development, cognitive function, and academic achievement.
Furthermore, a recent study by Michigan State University found that students in STEM-related degrees have up to 8 times more exposure to the arts as children than the general public.
They also found that 93% of the respondents had some musical background compared to only 34% of average adults.
It’s time to change STEM education to STEAM.
6. Playing video games can improve brain function and cognitive development.
Video games tend to get a bad rap.
For many parents, it looks like their kids are “wasting away” as they sit in front of a screen oblivious to their surroundings.
But recent research shows that when children play with video games, their brains are actively engaged and fired up.
Important neural activities take place which in turn fosters healthy brain development.
It’s important to remember though that video games are not created equal.
For example, Drs. C. Shawn Green and Aaron R. Seitz, claim that action video games are better at stimulating cognition than so-called “brain games” which are built specifically to develop brain function.
Also, according to Dr. Rey Junco, the best video games are those that meet kids where they are and use that meeting ground as a place for learning just like Minecraft.
He adds that playing Minecraft teaches kids many useful skills like visuospatial reasoning and critical thinking.
Needless to say, more research needs to be done on the effects of gaming on children’s brains.
But what we do know for now is that video games are not entirely “evil”
7. Gender marketed toys may bring more harm than good
The intent is noble.
But according to Megan Fulcher, a Psychology Professor at Washington and Lee,
“Toys with strong feminized themes… leave girls with a narrow set of experiences and exclude girls that aren’t interested in makeup or shopping.” She adds that “it sends a worrisome message to girls that they are welcome to do math, engineering, science or even superheroes as long as they do it differently than boys.”
Furthermore, Christia Spears Brown, the author of Parenting Beyond Pink and Blue, adds that if girls get this idea at a very young age, then you shouldn’t be surprised if they grow up thinking there are jobs they couldn’t do.
She says, “If you start at a young age telling them that they can’t play with the same toy, why would you expect them to think equality in adulthood?”
Not all toys are made equal. If you want your child to play with toys that support healthy brain development, then bear these 7 things in mind every time you get him a toy to play with.
- You are the best toy for your newborn.
- Basic toys like playdough and building blocks support brain development the best.
- Electronic toys could slow down language development.
- Building blocks and puzzles can help develop spatial intelligence skills regardless of gender
- Don’t ignore musical toys and the arts. They reach parts of the brain that other activities can’t
- Some types of video games support the healthy development of the brain
- Gender-marketed toys may do more harm than good.