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The greatest gift

CAPSULE

July 03, 2006|Susan Brink | Times Staff Writer

ARITHMETIC flashcards at the age of 3 won't unleash the next Einstein. Nor will choosing a precise combination of educational toys guarantee a future good job and happy life.

It's attention and play with adoring adults that stimulates brain development -- not just in individual infants, but in the nation's future workforce.

In a June 27 online publication of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers representing fields of neurobiology, psychiatry, sociology and economics laid out a case that toy-buying decisions are minuscule concerns. The kind of attention that kids get from parents, grandparents and others who love them builds the ground floor of the brain's architecture that will later accommodate a second language or calculus.

"It's not necessarily anything you can buy," says Eric Knudsen, professor of neurobiology at Stanford University School of Medicine and one of the study's authors.

One study cited found that when poor kids were given year-round, all-day attention from the age of 4 months through 8 years, they had higher IQs, reached higher levels of education, earned more money and were more likely to own a home.

"When it comes to brain development, it's more efficient to get it right the first time than to try to fix it later," says Jack Shonkoff, professor of social policy at Brandeis University and an author of the paper.

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