As any parent who's been forced to hoist a wailing toddler over one shoulder after a long day at the zoo/museum/amusement park knows, sometimes activities that are supposed to be fun for little ones end up being way more than they're ready to handle. While this is never an enjoyable experience, it's a lot less painful when it happens at a local attraction than at a pricey destination like The Happiest Place on Earth. So is it even worth it to fork over the cash for an all inclusive stay? How does Disneyland affect toddler's brains, exactly?
To be fair, you're probably not thinking about synapses and brain cells when you start comparing airfares and hotel packages. Your main concern is most likely whether or not your toddler will have fun. Will he get super cranky when he has to wait in line? Will he love meeting Mickey or will he be one of those kids who's terrified of costumed characters? Will his nap schedule get so out of whack that none of you will sleep until you get back home? In terms of stimulation, your main concern is probably overstimulation (the kind that turns your tot into a puddle of misery). But it could be that too little stimulation is worse than too much. In fact, science says that a wide variety of stimuli is key to healthy brain development in young children, which happens in conjunction with the development of sensory perception and motor skills.
Research conducted at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology suggests that even young babies should be "challenged and stimulated at their level from birth onward," as Science Daily reported. And as researcher and neuroscientist Audrey van der Meer explained, young children "need to engage their entire body and senses by exploring their world and different materials, both indoors and out and in all types of weather" to be exposed to enough stimuli.
There's no question that Disneyland (or Disneyworld, of course) offers more than enough engaging outdoor excitement for all the senses. Now, how exactly does all that stimuli affect your toddler's brain? Let's just say you'll be getting your money's worth out of this trip for sure.
1. Boosts IQ
A trip to Disneyland might not technically be considered "educational," but your kid's IQ could still benefit. As The Telegraph reported, research has shown that an "enriched" environment (one that offers new experiences including social, physical, cognitive and sensory interaction) activates the genetic expression of “brain fertilizers” in the frontal lobes. These enhance executive functions such as "stress regulation, attention, concentration, good planning and ability to learn" — plus, brain fertilizers triggered in enriched environments are associated with higher IQ in kids, too.
2. Helps To Shape Identity
Disneyland is basically unforgettable, and those memories will be more than happy pics to look back on when everybody gets older. As Dima Amso, an associate professor in the department of cognitive, linguistic and psychological sciences at Brown University, told Scientific American:
"A memory is essentially a unit of experience, and every experience shapes the brain in meaningful ways. Specific memories may be forgotten, but because those memories form the fabric of our identities, knowledge and experiences, they are never truly or completely gone."
A significant vacation could literally be part of who your child becomes forever.
3. Promotes Intelligence
Family trips to places like Disney can literally boost your little one's brain development, as The Telegraph reported. That's because these experiences exercise two "genetically ingrained systems" in the brain’s limbic area, known as the PLAY system and the SEEKING system.
Giving your kid a chance to explore and have fun engages these systems, stimulating growth and maturation in the frontal lobes. The result is improved "cognitive functioning, social intelligence and well-focused, goal-directed behaviors" that can last into adulthood.
4. Strengthens Memory
Getting back to memories, you might assume that your toddler's recollections of Disneyland will fade long before first grade. But some memories seem to persist: Researchers discovered that four-and-a-half-year-old kids could recall detailed memories from a trip to Disney World 18 months earlier, Nautilus reported.
Naturally, those memories will get mistier over the years. But talking about your trip and looking at videos and pictures will help to bring them back!
5. Encourages Language Skills
Another vote for more stimulation vs. less: As The Guardian reported, scientists found that the more mental stimulation a child gets at around the age of four, the more developed the areas of their brains that deal with language and cognition will be for decades to come.
Just assume that some of those language skills will include memorizing the lyrics to "It's a Small World," and you'll be fine.