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Toy Blocks Might Boost Toddlers' Language Skills

'Imaginative learning' play may help, study suggests

TUESDAY, Oct. 2 (HealthDay News) -- An age-old children's pastime -- playing with toy blocks -- may help boost the language development of middle- and low-income children, a U.S. study finds.

The pilot study of 175 children ages 1.5 to 2.5 years was funded by a toy block maker.

In the study, the children were divided into two groups. One group of 88 children received two sets of building blocks, and their parents were given suggestions on block-related activities they could do with their children, such as sorting the blocks by color. A second group of 87 children did not receive any blocks during the study.

After six months, parents' assessments of their children's development indicated that children who played with toy blocks scored 15 percent higher on language than children who didn't receive blocks. There was no difference in attention scores.

The findings are published in the October issue of the journal Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.

"Further study (including laboratory assessments) to corroborate these findings and to explore whether attentional capacity could be significantly improved given a large sample is warranted," wrote Dr. Dimitri A. Christakis, of the University of Washington, Seattle, and the Seattle Children's Hospital Research Institute, and colleagues.

They noted that early childhood is "critical period" in the development of a youngster's mind. "The newborn brain triples in size between birth and two 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 in the development of memory, impulse control and language. While many toys claim to help improve young children's cognitive development, most of those claims are unsubstantiated, the study authors noted.

More information

The U.S. National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders has more about speech and language development.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: JAMA/Archives journals, news release, Oct. 1, 2007

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