Beating a dead cognitive horse

Yesterday was my older son's birthday. Hooray! He's two! If you have not had a two-year-old, you should get yourself one. They are awfully cute.

His aunt and uncle brought him one of those plastic garages with cars that go down a ramp. Thoughtful present, he adores it. To my chagrin, the side of the package boasted all sorts of cognitive benefits he could expect from playing. With. A. Toy. Garage.


Listen, I have no doubt that playing with toys is better for a child's cognitive development than being locked in an attic and throwing him raw meat every so often. But a garage is not going to get your kid into Harvard! It will, however, amuse him for a while. If he didn't have the garage, he would amuse himself with some other toy, that would likely be equally beneficial.

Please allow me to rant:

1. Children do not learn words well by merely seeing images and hearing the word spoken. They learn much better if they just hang around people using language, following eye gaze, etc. (Here's a great book by well-respected psychologist on the topic). Videos are of limited educational value.

2. TV has been established to show a slight language delay in children. Not a language deficit. A delay. And that is the only damage TV in reasonable amounts has been clearly established to show. TV is not an ideal teacher. Nor will it, in reasonable amounts, destroy your child forever.

3. It has been shown that children do better in an environment where they have some stimulation. It is not good to be raised in a Romanian orphanage. It has not been shown that because some stimulation is better than no stimulation, it is therefore best of all to subject your child to constant social, sensory, and linguistic stimulation. They might well need some downtime. Or to learn to discover sensory and linguistic stimulation on their own.

4. Let's be a bit more humble. We know relatively little about cognitive development. It might not be best to try and program your kid when we know so little about both the hardware and software.

5. It's a hell of a lot more fun to be a parent if you can just hang out with kids instead of optimizing them. And if you're having fun as a parent, it just might be beneficial for your kid.


  1. Your comparison to hardware/software is apt. Engineers know that building the hardware is the fun, easy part.

  2. "Engineers know that building the hardware is the fun, easy part."

  3. Hear, hear.

    And since when do all toys HAVE to have defined cognitive benefits? Isn't "fun" enough benefit?