The Toy Your Child Plays with Can Give a Boost in Brain Development or Severally Inhibit it...

The following article was published on To Be Intentional Blog about Flockmen. Needless to say, we are grateful to Mrs Alina for her kind words.

We are republishing it here because, frankly, it brilliantly encapsulates the reasons why we believe Flockmen can play such a critical part in early childhood development.


Playing matters.  At least that's what the American Academy of Pediatrics suggests. To quote a study the Academy published about the importance of play to young children

“Play is essential to the social, emotional, cognitive, and physical well-being of children beginning in early childhood. It is a natural tool for children to develop resiliency as they learn to cooperate, overcome challenges, and negotiate with others. Play also allows children to be creative. It provides time for parents to be fully engaged with their children, to bond with their children, and to see the world from the perspective of their child."

The statement seems pretty clear, play is important. But are the specific toys children play with important?

In our digital age, are digital forms of playing as helpful to the cognitive development of your children as the analog games and toys we've played for a thousand years, or more?

The evidence seems clear...

Our digital age runs the risk of hurting your child's brain development. 

For example, Psychology Today offers a very disturbing glimpse of what happens in a child's brain when they play video games.  Their heart rate spikes, they enter into fight or flight – which redirects blood in their body and shuts down their higher functioning brain in exchange for primitive reactionary thinking. 

Their stress hormones can remain high for hours after, causing small panic attacks for no reason at all and interrupting sleep patterns which are critical to your child's development . 

Have you noticed, or experienced, how public temper tantrums and children who are confrontational with their parents seem far more prevalent today than 30 years ago?  One of the reason could very well be the proliferation of video games among children.

That puts a new light on the often repeated phrase, “He just needs a good spanking.”  It never fails... anytime I see a child acting out of control in public, I hear some old codger say something like that. 

As it turns out, spanking children may not be the answer...simply getting them off the video games could go a long way to solving the problem. 

Even hours after playing a video game, when your child's nervous system has successful calmed down, they will still have cortisol in their system. Cortisol is a stress hormone and it can drive your child's blood sugar up and down erratically. 

That's why they are always begging for candy and other sweet treats.

After a session on the video games, they can also be in a fog, listless, weepy, and exhausted. 

And worst of all, the surge of dopamine that the video games release in your child's brain can be addictive! 

However, if it were as easy as taking away the video games, the problem wouldn't be so hard to fix.  But I'm afraid your child's brain development is under a far more widespread assault than most parents realize. 

For example, according to Scientific American TV has been connected to an increase in the parts of the brain that are responsible for emotional responses, arousal, aggression and vision.  Just to be clear, that suggests an increase in the chances of overly emotional behavior and aggressive behavior. 

But the concerning parts don't end there.  In addition,

“Testing of the children in the study confirmed that verbal IQ fell in proportion to the hours of TV the children watched.

And as far as smartphones and tablets, the jury is still out.  This is the first generation to grow up with access to them.  Scientist won't know the effects of smartphones and tablets until the guinea pigs...I mean our children grow up. 

However, Jenny Radesky from Boston university published a study that correlates excessive media use to “poor self-regulation” in children.  She suggests that replacing physical activities and human interaction with a mobile device could be dangerous

After hearing about video games and TV, are you really surprised? 

Honestly, I was surprised by the effects of TV, but once I learned about how disastrous TV and video games can be, I expected mobile devices to be horrible.

What kind of toys can our children play with?

As any responsible parent, I know you want to give your child the best possible chance in life. It turns out the answer to that might not be found in tutors or academic pursuits. 

The answer to accelerating your child's creativity, intelligence, and problem solving skills can be found in any toy box and has been a staple of childhood playing for hundreds of years. 

Wooden blocks.

How simple, how elegant, and how funny that for all of our advancements, the key to our intellectual development is found in a toy that's at least 324 years old...and likely much older. 

The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) says that playing with blocks teaches Problem Solving, Imagination, Self-Expression, Mathematics, Continuity and Permanence, Creativity, Science, Self-Esteem, Social and emotional Growth, and Fine Motor Skills.

That seem unbelievable for a bag of wooden cubes, but NAEYC isn't the only organization saying this. Clayton Early Learning confirms much of what NAEYC asserts, and ads,

“Block Play Performance among Preschoolers is a Predictor of Later School Achievement in Mathematics.”

In short, blocks are some of the most powerful and advantageous toys children can play with. If you want your child to excel socially, emotionally, and academically put away the smartphone, turn off the TV and get a bunch of blocks for your child to play with.

The second toy that's key to your child's brain development.

There's another secret weapon you can use to make sure you child has the best chance of success in our modern world.  Just like wooden blocks, this toy is hundreds - maybe thousands - of years old. 

As stunning as it may seem, I'm talking about puzzles.  Infant puzzles, adolescent puzzles...puzzles of any kind.

Still, playing with puzzles has been shown by the University of Chicago to enhance a child's spatial acuity.  That's the child's ability to rotate and translate shapes in their head.

Spatial acuity is a predictor of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) coursework in college. 

And this sort of play is powerfully beneficial for both young boys and girls. 

And you don't have to wait until your child is pursuing higher education to see the benefits of playing with puzzles. Even as young children it will help their hand-eye coordination and their gross and fine motor skills.  It also teaches children to be patient, to work towards a goal, and problem solving. 

It even helps with memory!

Of course, when I share some of these findings with parents, they all ask the same question...

How do I get my children to play with those kinds of toys?

Child naturally want to play with more “exciting” toys.  Toys that don't require a lot of imagination or like video games, TV, or mobile devices.  

And who can blame them.  There's a lot less work needed when everything is spelled out right in front of you on a screen.  You don't have to imagine, you don't have to move or build anything.

You can just sit there and be entertained. 

Children aren't much different than adults in that way, they always want the easiest path to their goal.  In the case of toys, that goal is entertainment and the shortest path is a screen with something happening on it. 

But you and I have learned, as adults, the shortest easiest path isn't always the best path.  Especially in the long term view of life.  And so it's up to us to find a way to help our children do what is best for them.

There's a few ways to get your children to play with toys that are most likely to enhance and deepen their brain development. 

The first way is just to remove any other toys.  This will work, but it is the hardest way to go.  Children, even small children, resent being backed in to a corner.  If you have a child that you believe is addicted to “a screen” you may want to consider this approach, otherwise think about doing something a little less dramatic.

For example, let's look at something a little easier and more fun everyone involved. 

Flockmen balancing natural maths

While researching this article, I found a fascinating new toy called Flockmen.  These toys are small pieces of wood shaped like a person. They interlock with each other and allow a child to construct any number of fun and unusual shapes.

When I showed my 4 year old twins, they were thrilled with the toys and immediately started begging me for them.  

I relented and bought a bundle for each child.  Seriously, after doing research for this article, I wasn't going to refuse to buy something like this that my children were excited about.

At the time of publication, 3 weeks after the Flockmen arrived, my children both still love them. They spend hours everyday playing with them.  

And there's something else I noticed, which I'm very pleased with.  Since the Flockmen are small and they link together, my twins are learning team work.  I know it sounds ridiculous, but when the Flockmen “are climbing up or down the side of the couch” or “are trying to reach the something on the coffee table mountain,” they can only do it by working together.  

And since they've been playing like the Flockmen are working together as a team, my twins are working as a team far better than before.  

I love Flockmen, and I think any parent of a young child will love them too. 

EDITORS NOTE: After reviewing countless pages and studies about childhood education, I can firmly say that Flockmen are a godsend for anyone who wants to give their children a head start in life.  Personally I swear by them.