Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Toddlers Improve Language Development through Block-play

A toddler who plays with blocks may experience improved language development if he/she comes from a middle or low income family, according an article in Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine (JAMA/Archives), October issue.

The writers explain "Early childhood represents a critical period in the development of young minds. The newborn brain triples in size between birth and 2 years of age. The long-standing presumption has been that certain activities during this period promote optimal development and that others may hinder it."

Imaginative play can help a child's memory development; it can also develop the roots of impulse control and language development, say the authors. Although an enormous number of toys make claims regarding a child's cognitive development, the majority of these claims are unproven.

Dimitri A. Christakis, M.D., M.P.H, University of Washington, Seattle and the Seattle Children's Hospital Research Institute, and team carried out a pilot study with 175 children, aged 1.5 to 2.5 years. 88 of those children were sent two sets of building blocks, plus two newsletters which offered suggestions for parents about activities the families could do with the blocks. The other 87 children were not sent any blocks until the study had been completed.

The parents had been told that they were taking part in a study of child time use. They filled in a questionnaire about basic demographic information at the start of the study. They provided time diaries that monitored their child's activities during two 24-hour periods during the trial. Six months after the study had started the parents filled in another questionnaire by phone - this included evaluations of their child's language skills and attention.

53% (92) of the families completed at least one diary entry. Exit interviews were completed by 80% (140) of the families. 59% (52) of families which received two sets of blocks reported block-play in their diaries, compared to 13% (11) from the other group.

The authors wrote "In this pilot study, we found that distributing blocks was associated with significantly higher language scores in a sample of middle- and low-income children."

The researchers found that the children who had received blocks had an average language assessment score 15% higher than the other children, indicating that a program that distributes blocks could be effective in boosting development. The scientists also reported that as far as attention scores were concerned, the two groups had similar scores.

The researchers suggest that block play may be replacing other forms of times use which do not encourage language development, such as watching TV.

The writers added "Further study (including laboratory assessments) to corroborate these findings and to explore whether attentional capacity could be significantly improved given a larger sample is warranted."

Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2007;161(10):967-971

Written by: Christian Nordqvist
Copyright: Medical News Today

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