If you are thinking of buying educational baby toys hoping to make your child develop to the full extent of his or her ability, you may have wondered whether these toys really have any effect. Can small babies actually learn anything from a toy, or are educational toys for babies just a waste of money?
To find the answer we first have to understand how babies learn and what they are learning when they are very small.
Unlike many animals, young humans are completely dependent on their parents for several years of their lives. In this time they have a lot to learn. They must find out how to act on the world in a way that will eventually mean that they can survive on their own. This involves using all of their five senses and their brain.
When a baby is born, the brain is small and undeveloped. It doubles in size in the first year of life, growing from around 30% of its adult size at birth to 60% at the age of one year. This represents a massive increase in the baby's potential ability to learn.
So a baby's brain is undergoing a massive physical growth spurt. This means there is huge potential for the baby to learn. But the brain needs stimulation.
Why? Well, because just like a muscle, the brain has to be exercised in order to grow strong. As it grows, it contains more and more nerve cells or neurons. You can think of these as being like tiny electrical wires. At first, the wires are there but they are not connected to each other. Gradually, as more connections are made, circuits are built which allow the baby to think, understand the world and be more coordinated in his or her physical movements. These connections are made by the baby's response to stimulation that comes from the world around.
So the more stimulation the baby has, the more nerve connections are made in the brain, and the more the power of the brain develops. So yes, the right kind of stimulation can make the baby smarter.
What is the right kind of stimulation? The answer is, anything that stimulates the baby's 5 senses at the right level for the baby's current stage of development. The 5 senses are:
Sight - babies have trouble focusing at first, so the best way to help them learn to identify different objects is to have them in bright colors.
Sound - babies will respond to many kinds of sounds including classical music, bells and familiar tunes.
Touch - a variety of textures will stimulate the baby's sense of touch. Babies will also learn to grip and move objects such as rattles, especially if they are rewarded with a sound or colorful sight.
Smell and taste - most toys do not focus on these senses but they will be stimulated naturally as the baby grows and becomes able to digest a variety of foods.
Good quality educational toys are designed to stimulate the baby's senses in the best ways. Toys alone are not enough - the baby also needs quality time with an adult to be taught how to use the toys - but most parents give this attention without even thinking about it. So educational baby toys can help to make a baby smart, and it is worth buying the best.