Toys and child brain development

I am curious to know to what extent, if at all, do toys affect the development of the brain in infants and very young children. Any activity must logically alter the course of brain development, because it is an extremely plastic organ, geared to learn by growing new connections and altering old ones.

In infants and very young children, every waking moment is a learning moment as well, as the infantile brain encounters and processes a variety of stimuli it never encountered before. Given the super-plastic nature of the young brain, logic suggests that the introduction of a variety of toys must substantially alter the course of its development, due to a greater degree of novel sensory stimulation, which directly translates to learning.

So does IQ substantially improve with the addition of a variety of toys early on? (I am considering a period of up to 3 years from birth.) Or do toys in some ways hinder neural development, given that the brain evolved over millions of years without the help of the kind of toys we have/use today?

My own observation of toddler behavior, based on my little 9-month niece: she will look at toys for a while, but eventually lose interest and crawl over to the kitchen, where she will have fun pulling down utensils and spilling water, for far longer, without getting bored. The fact that she has access to less number of toys than her older sister seems to matter nothing to her. :cool:

Small children are fascinating. There has been a great deal of proper research into this field, far too extensive for me to post. Here is one link to get you started :

Anecdotally, I expect that most parents have observed the phenomenon of children who get less play value from toys than from the boxes they came in. No doubt little Ugg in his prehistoric cave played with bits of bone, dabbled in water and chased small animals.

Your nine-month-old has plenty of toys. They just aren’t the things you intended to be toys. But when she’s making a mess of the pots and pans and the sink, she’s playing, and she’s learning.

yep. I think people tend to overthink this stuff. sometimes little kids are fascinated by a toy you give them, other times they’re enamored with banging pans together or screaming their fool heads off. and especially when kids get a little older, imagination is important.

Kind of like when I was little, and flipping a tricycle over and working the pedals by hand made it an ice cream machine. It made no sense whatsoever, but goddamn it for those few minutes that upside-down-tricycle was a goddamn ice cream maker.

You’re absolutely nuts.

It made popcorn. :smiley:

So yes, virtually anything can be a toy, not just items designated as toys … and once you get to 15 to 18 months and pretend play kicks in the imagination is as much the point as anything. The key is a safe environment rich with a wide variety of things to explore and preferably with some verbal feedback from others such as parents.

Things like early block play clearly correlate with later math achievement. Of course maybe the predisposition to math skills leads kids to be attracted to blocks and play well with them rather than the exposure developing the skills … or a bit of both. A question of some significance to later math performance differences between the genders. Are boys tracked into math by early exposure to more block play?

What I do wonder about most though is the diminishment of such open-ended play resultant of toys designed to be used one way and for one purpose only, and how the ubiquity of tablets as entertainment from very very early on (I am half-seriously awaiting a teething app) impacts development … not assuming for the worse but it has to impact the trajectory. There is something about the tactile feedback of building with blocks and feeling and that several is more than one, and that more feels different yet, that is different than dragging a shape over on a tablet.

To me the best toys are items that can be used in many different ways as the child develops and that give feedback to multiple senses.

I don’t about much research about it yet though. Did read something related in the NYT just the other day about tablets vs reading traditional books to toddlers as potentially having an impact.

So we will have to wait and see.