Do not apologize for being curious! These are great questions. I am by no means a child development expert; however, from the extensive reading I’m doing on Child Development for my Masters in Family Therapy, I can confidently say:
- You shouldn’t focus on how fast your child’s brain develops. Reaching a developmental milestone before another child doesn’t mean one kid is smarter than another. It just means that a given kid had the cognitive capacity and the social motivation to master a certain task earlier than most kids. Let’s use reading as an example. One kid may develop early and have an affinity for books. He/she may learn to read at four. Incredible! Another kid may have developed the capacity to read at the same time, but he/she focused on other things. That kid reads at 5, just like the average child. Still another kid may become a fast reader with a great memory for books, but his/her neural circuitry came online a bit later than the first two kids, so he reads proficiently at 6. Think of brain development like a mental growth spurt. Even if you’re still 5'4 in Middle School and your friend is 5'6; if you grow 2 inches in High School, you’re both 5'6 as adults, she just got there faster. Instead of WHEN a kid reaches a milestone, focus on how integrated your child’s brain is when tackling a task associated with that milestone. Our brain has 3 levels and 2 hemispheres, which all need to work together to be fully functioning adults. Integrating parts of the brain as they come online is the work, not celebrating if/when a certain part of the brain comes online sooner in your kid than another kid. I am about to post about this concept in detail, which will (hopefully) add more depth to this comment.
- No toy is going to make your kid’s brain develop faster; but, the more you focus on a given activity, the more neural real-estate your brain makes available to that task. For example, guitar players allocate more cortical space to finger dexterity than soccer players, because repetitive behaviors have indicated that guitar playing is an important skill, while kicking a soccer ball is not. Your brain is here to help you survive in your environment. If you do something a lot, your brain assumes it is an essential survival task; so, it focuses on helping you to master that task. Basically, there is no magic game to make your kid a genius, just like there is no magic diet that removes the scientific reality of calories in vs. calories out. Net net, if hand-eye coordination is key to a video game, your kid’s hand-eye coordination will improve; but, those same capabilities could be cultivated by playing soccer or baseball instead.
- In all of the reading I’ve done, not a single expert (MD, Psychiatrist, Psychologist, Sociologist) warns against repetitive play. In fact, repetition is a healthy and normal part of learning and mastering new skills. I had ‘The Lion King’ and ‘Aladdin’ memorized as a kid. The only time that repetition can be concerning is if you see joyless, repetitive play surrounding themes/concepts that may indicate that a child has been abused. So, in deciding how much time you want to allow your kid to spend watching ‘Aladdin’ or playing video games, it helps to understand that play is the work that helps children master the skills they’ll need to be fully functioning adults. So, if you want them to learn certain skills, maneuver them toward play that will help them to master those skills.