Benefits of Toys and Brain Development in Children
Toys And A Child’s Mental Development
It is a well-established fact that playtime is instrumental in the growth and development of children. The toys used in play provide the necessary stimulation for their cognitive and motor development which can lay the foundation for their trust in themselves and others around them. When kids grow up, these building blocks that have been imprinted into their young brains become the repository for many positive feelings which provide the child’s sense of confidence, worth, pride, and esteem.
The relationship between play and brain development has been well studied both by child health professionals and by child developmental psychologists. Studies show that play can have many positive effects on the developing brain of children and on their ability to learn. It is for this reason that play is largely considered one of the most crucial modes of learning especially for very young children.
Top Advantages of toys and brain development:
Enhances Memory and Helps Grow the Cerebral Cortex
In a landmark study in 1964, researchers performed a murine study on the relationship between play and brain growth and development particularly the cerebral cortex where majority of the brain’s cognitive functions reside. Researchers found that the brains of rats that were subjected to play had significantly larger brain mass, more specifically thicker and denser cerebral cortices, compared to rats that were not provided with any activity or play stimulation.
A 1992 study also revealed that rats that were subjected to enriched play environments were a lot smarter, too, as they were able to breeze through mazes a lot faster suggesting that memory is at play.
While you may argue that these results are inconclusive and cannot be applied to the human brain, the ethical considerations disallows human experimentation. However, experts say that if a murine brain can develop in such a way, what more a human brain?
Triggers the Secretion of Essential Brain Growth Substances
Additional murine studies in 2003 and 2007 revealed that exploratory and physically active play can result in the increased synthesis and secretion of BDNF or brain-derived neurotrophic factor. This chemical substance which is a neurotrophin growth factor, is responsible for the growth and maintenance of neurons and other nervous system cells in the brain and the peripheral nervous system. This has been shown to account for the improved processing of sensory input.
Again, ethical issues prevent us from experimenting with human subjects so these results are primarily from rats. Nevertheless, the implications are simply great that the observed behavior of rats in controlled conditions closely mimic the behavior of children who explore their environments and engage in physically active plays.
Enhances Attention and Focus
A 2006 meta-analysis revealed that grade school children who are allowed to play during recess for no more than 20 minutes perform a lot better academically. They exhibit greater concentration and attention to the different classroom academic activities. The results are slightly different from highly structured physical activities like physical education classes as these are mostly composed of adult-imposed rules. The same meta-analysis revealed that play periods longer than 30 minutes usually have the opposite effect on the attention and focus of children.
Develops Language Skills
Kids toys can also help develop the language skills of children especially when they engage in sociodramatic play. The toys serve as miniature representations of real-life objects which children can use for pretend or symbolic play.
A 2000 British study showed that children between the ages of 1 and 6 years old showed better scores in both receptive and expressive language tests when they are given toys for symbolic play. Children who did not have toys and were asked to perform symbolic tasks showed significantly lower language test scores. Toys can thus help in developing children’s ability to understand words and their ability to express these words themselves.
Promotes Problem-Solving and Creative Thinking Skills
It is a well-established fact that toys are instruments that help facilitate learning of creative problem-solving skills.
In a 1981 study, two groups of preschoolers were given toys that allowed for either divergent play or convergent play. Preschoolers on the convergent group were given puzzles while those on the divergent group were provided with building blocks. The study revealed that preschoolers on the divergent group displayed more creativity and imagination in attempting to solve problems. While this does not say that convergent play materials are ineffective, it simply means that the more open-ended the nature of the toy, the greater is the chance for developing creativity. This translates to problem-solving skills as convergent problems only require a single solution while divergent problems can have a multitude of solutions. It is up to the individual which solution will work best. This can also translate to better sense of experimentation and exploration.
In 1999, another study revealed the inferential relationship between a child’s divergent problem-solving skills and pretend play. Children who engage in pretend play have shown greater ability in solving divergent problems. The converse was observed among children who did not engage in pretend play. They have difficulty coming up with a variety of solutions to a particular problem.
Promotes Self-regulation and Counterfactual Reasoning
Toys do not only stimulate divergent problem-solving skills but also counterfactual reasoning and self-regulation. A 2013 study revealed that toys used in pretend play can help children regulate their own emotions, impulses, and even attention.
Pretend play especially when done with other children, requires the child to agree to what they will be pretending to play. This helps children to conform to their self-imposed rules. The same study also showed that pretend play can help develop children’s ability for counterfactual reasoning. They can try to play a “what if” scenario.
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Enhances Numerical and Mathematical Skills
Research shows that the more complex the building toys that children play, the greater the improvement in their math skills. Children who play with such toys grew up to be math wizards or at least excelled in courses where math is a major concentration.
There are other benefits of toys especially on the development of a kid’s brain. Researchers continue to build on existing knowledge. The results of these studies are carefully integrated into the design of more educational and developmentally-appropriate toys.
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