Psychologists and toy manufacturers have between them devised a bewildering variety of educational toys for the crib and playroom. But the way to fire a youngster's intelligence and imagination, according to a three-year study recently finished in Germany, is to put him in a large, low-ceilinged room painted in his favorite color.
Colors, particularly, have "a decisive influence on the child's mental performance," says Henner Ertel, director of Munich's Gesellschaft für Rationelle Psychologie, where researchers have been studying the impact of environment on mental growth since 1970. Indeed Ertel and his co-workers found that the proper selection of colors could instantly raise the average IQs of a random sample of 473 children by twelve points. This was accomplished merely by testing the children in rooms that were painted light blue, yellow, yellow-green or orangecolors the children said they thought were "beautiful."
Rooms painted with "ugly" colors white, black and brownhad a negative effect, causing an average drop of 14 IQ points among children who played in them. Researchers found that the popular colors also stimulated alertness and creativity; white, black and brown playrooms made children duller.
Carrying their studies further, the Munich researchers observed two groups in nine color-coordinated rooms. During the same period, a separate control group played in a conventional kindergarten. After six months, the experimental groups, who had played in "beautifully" colored rooms with "beautifully" colored building blocks, had outstripped the controls by an average of 15 IQ points, even though the children in the control group had started out with slightly higher intelligence scores. After 18 months the experimental group was 25 points ahead.
The methodical institute researchers even claim to have measured the percentage of improvement that beautiful colors caused in the children's social behavior. In the orange room they found that the positive social reactions (friendly words, smiles) increased 53% and that negative reactions (irritable, hostile ones) declined 12%.
The Munich group also explored the influence that the size of a room had on child development. The children tested by the psychologists expressed a strong preference for play areas much larger than anyone had expected, and 90% were not completely satisfied until they were allowed at least 77 sq. yds. each. As a result, the Munich institute has developed its minimum playspace requirements; it now recommends space ranging from 3.6 sq. yds. for infants under two years to 24 sq. yds. for those between seven and nine. In smaller spaces children's mental performance and social behavior deteriorate.
Primary Instinct. One other conclusion of the Munich group is that children prefer ceilings less than 7 ft. high. "It's almost a primary instinct," explains Ertel. "They want to explore their environment through touching. In the kindergarten experiment, the first thing the children did every morning was pile up the blocks so that they could climb up and reach the ceiling."