October 2, 2007

TV-Hating Researcher's Block Company-Funded Study: Surprise! Blocks Make Your Kid Smarter

"Lead researcher Dr. Dimitri Christakis works with study blocks. Photo courtesy of Seattle Children’s Hospital Research Institute"

In a recently published study commissioned by a Canadian block company [above foreground], Dr. Dimitri Christakis [above, left] and his colleagues at Seattle Children's Hospital Research Institute found that toddlers who played with blocks performed an average of 15% better on language assessment than those who didn't.

Not coincidentally, I think, Christakis is also the researcher behind the recent "Baby Einstein numbs your kids brain" [sic] study that got Disney chairman Bob Iger so hot and bothered. Keep that--and Baby Einstein's amorphous, non-research-grounded claims--in mind when you read what Christakis told Seattle P-I reporter [and dadblogger!] Paul Nyhan:

"Many toys make claims they are actually educational for kids...The interesting thing is that things like blocks never made such claims."
Which probably explains why a blockmaker might be interested in commissioning such research.

The study consisted of a survey of 175 toddlers, half of whom received a gift of blocks at the beginning of the study, and half who received it after it was done. Parents kept 24-hr activity journals, then responded to follow-up phone interview/surveys several months later. Journals of kids who received the blocks were 4x as likely to mention block-playing [59% vs. 13%]. From the hospital press release comes speculation that the blocks are proxies for parent-kid interactive play:

The research speculates that the distribution of toy blocks resulted in more block-play and this block playtime may be replacing other time spent that does not encourage language development. Television time may have also been replaced by block-play.
It would appear the ball is in the baby DVD makers' court.

Old-school Blocks Prove Best for Brains [seattlepi.nwsource.com, via paul at working dad and a whole slew of other people, thanks!]
Playing with Blocks May Improve Language Development in Toddlers, New Study Finds [seattlechildrens.org, image, too.]
Previously: TV endumbening our nation's toddlers, maybe sorta; TV causes ADHD, or something, maybe; Baby Einstein's got a posse, too


Um - kids who were given blocks played with them but those who weren't didn't?

[it's scientifically proven. -ed.]

Yes, but how many of those kids were also previously exposed to BabyPlus?

[hundreds of thousands, I'm sure, and not just yuppies, either, ethnic ones, too. -ed.]

DT, Someday we are going to have to host a talk about the intersection of blogging, new media and traditional journalism. You take stories in directions I can't, or just don't because maybe I'm lazy. I'm increasingly convinced blogging won't replace journalism, but it's going to change the way we report, write, read and think about stories more than the mainstream media thinks.

[I was assuming it was "can't"; after all, your blog's not called "Working Dad" for nothing. There's an overlap and symbiosis in some respects, but there are wide swaths of information and types of content that an established media just would never touch, I think. I mean, if I were a syndicated columnist ranging semi-obsessively about the CPSC, lead, lactivism, and pre-chewed toys on eBay, how long would it take me to get dropped by everyone? PDQ, I'd think. Though I guess Larry King and Paul Harvey both had that "whatever pops into my head" schtick... also, you probably have a much better dental plan. -ed.]

That's my point. Smart bloggers take news stories in directions journalists can't and that expands the story and changes how the news in that story is understood. Basically, smart blogging expands the context of news, and in the best cases creates a better dialogue about TV and babies or whatever, and that can be a good thing.
Plus, parent bloggers are a never ending source of story ideas for "working" journalists.

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