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Intelligence - A Child's Play - Making mud pies or building sand castles increases intelligence according to the American psychologist Dr. Toy

By Von Simone Leinkauf

Der Tagesspielgel

August 5 2003

Making mud pies is something wonderful. 18 month old Kristin enthusiastically molds wet sand with both hands, then, with a cry of joy destroys the sand castle she'd painstakingly built just moments earlier. No reason for sadness, though - just the opposite in fact - a new undertaking begins right away. Baking forms, small buckets and shovels support the Summer activities while Niklas, Kristin's four year old brother, carries branches and leaves from the garden in hopes of making the next construction even more beautiful than the last. This game can be started over and over again with the children never tiring from the play.

On the other hand, as adults we might think that this is wasted time, especially since the game does not show any significant results. But for children of all ages playing is not just a nice way to pass the time, but an exercise for life. During their play, junior master builders like Kristin and Niklas learn important facts about different materials, static, gravity, co-ordination and fine motor skills. By and large, scientists agree that genes are an important factor in determining a child's IQ, however children have to be encouraged and cultivated to learn.


For quite some time now experts have agreed that playtime increases intelligence. The American psychologist and Play Consultant, Stevanne Auerbach, who is known throughout the USA as "Dr. Toy" is convinced: the more children play, and the more intense the play is, the higher their 'play' IQ will be (Play-Quotient). There is also an improved chance at a higher intelligence quotient (IQ) as well as emotional IQ.

Dr. Auerbach, an unbelievably vital grandmother with an Eight-year-old grandchild, is not alone with this opinion. Scientists of the University of Illinois found out that during play the brain's activity increases by 25%. Also in the USA, scientists at Baylor University discovered that the brain mass of children who did not play in the first 5 years of their life, was 20 - 30% less than that of children who had played during these formative years. Most children, if they are left alone, will only play approximately 15.000 hours during the first six years of their lives - that means on average up to 9 hours per day. And while playing they practice everything they need for their daily life. "While playing with other children they practice speaking and discussing, and learn abstract thinking." enumerates Stevanne Auerbach.

For many years she worked for the US Department of Education in Washington, D.C. where she opened the first child-care center for employees of the government. What she saw in her daughters play while she was growing up, or today in her grandsons actions, she can also see in the children she's observed throughout her work, "Playing cultivates a zest for life and builds self-confidence in children, helping them develop into happy and balanced adults". She is convinced that a child's personality development is greatly hastened by 'child's play'.

And when she talks about her own childhood and her first toys she still becomes very excited. Adults attending her seminars start by closing their eyes, remembering the toys they played with 20, 30 or even 40 years ago. "You would be surprised at how many grown men and women are all of a sudden moved to tears when remembering their special childhood toys."

But why is it necessary to point out playing as a worthwhile activity? Don't children play all by themselves? In principle Stevanne Auerbach confirms this, however she sees a danger nowadays that was not there during her childhood years. Today's children stop playing at the age of six, seven, eight. Their activities are determined by the sports clubs or other clubs they join - their afternoons are firmly planned and the rest of the day they watch television.


At this point Auerbach points out the parents responsibilities - making sure enough stimulating toys are available, without drowning the kids in toys and gadgets. If that happens children can't make a decision which toy they want to play with and stop playing altogether. It might make sense to remove a portion of the toys from the playroom and only leave a limited number of interesting ones to choose from. Or, depending on the child's interest, toys could be exchanged sporadically.

Auerbach has a decided opinion what type of toys should be introduced to our children. " It should be a toy that represents a balance to the other structured activities in their life. A well-balanced collection offers possibilities for movement, creativity and learning." On her award winning website she rates toys according to their beauty, practicality, teaching value and security as well as price. But in her mind, the most valued toys for children remain the ones that are hand made. "Everything we give our children nowadays is ready-made. For most kids it would be an unforgettable experience to make toys together - a puppet or a stuffed animal or something out of wood. For that one doesn't need to be overly talented, just have the interest and desire to do something together with the child. And eventually they'll play alone again."


In a toy store you have a large selection. Stevanne Auerbach gives tips as to what to look for when buying a toy.


Beust Verlag is donating 15 of Dr. Toy's book Spielerische Intelligenz (Smart Play, Smart Toys) for Tagesspiegel readers who call between 2 pm and 6 pm and are willing to stop by and pick up the book, Stevanne Auerbach: Spielerische Intelligenz, Beust Verlag, 15,89EU

Other Book Tips: Speilzeugland: Ein Leitfaden fuer Eltern, - Verbraucher-Zentrale Nord-Rhein-Westfalen, 12,78 EU plus four EU postage, Telephone: 0180-500 14 33,

Vom Spielzeug und vom Spielen, spiel gut - Arbeitsausschuss Kinderspiel + Spielzeug, 9,50EU, Telephone: 0731-65 653,

Barbel Merthan: Spiele zur Schulvorbereitung, 2 volumes, Herder Verlag, each 13,90EU

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