In the first post in this series, I talked about brain development and specifically the development of neurons. I mentioned that even though the neurons that make up the brain are present at birth, they still need to be connected to be useful. This connection happens through use and this is where you come in as a parent or care giver especially in the first year. I ended that post by saying that parents can support their child’s development in the first year not only feeding and caring but also by education. This post will discuss that educational component.
To be clear, proper nutrition (feeding) and love (caring) are very important and without them, all the education in the world would not help brain development. I have talked about the importance of breast milk in the first year and I’ll just touch on love and care quickly. The brain of a child who does not feel safe, loved or cared for will default to survival/defense mode and is unable to function or develop to a higher level. For the brain to move from basic survival to more analytical or intelligent processing, the child has to feel loved, safe and secure. So as a parent, along with feeding, you should love and nurture your baby and make sure he/she feels safe. This is especially important in the early years. Now that the basis has been set, let’s move to education!
What is education? As the topic of this post says, education is everything you do with your child. Animals are born with specific instincts and characteristics which prepare them for a specific environment and life but this is not the case with human beings. A human being is born with the ability to learn and adapt to the time and place he is born into. He does this by observation of, and experiences in his environment.
From the moments their eyes open, children are keen observers of their environment. The environment includes everything that surrounds the child and everything he/she comes in contact with. So the physical environment of the home, the parents and other people, the sensory stimulations, motor experiences, social experiences, intellectual interactions and basically everything the child experiences. Again it is everything the child comes in contact with and experiences. What does this mean for the parent? It means your child is learning from everything you do and taking in aspects of the physical environment. To support this,
- You must model the right behavior. children and especially babies are excellent observers. They pay attention and absorb the things they observe
- Make sure the physical environment is interesting, beautiful and attractive. Remember the child is constructing himself and his brain using the images he takes in from the environment. He can only build using what he finds. So if he finds beauty, he will construct with beauty. Keep the environment simple, clean and attractive
- Talk to your child. I cannot stress the importance of this and yes, this should start at birth. Multiple researches have found that children whose parents speak to them have a higher IQ, speak better and perform better academically. While they may not respond or respond intelligibly, children are learning a lot by watching and listening to their parents speak
When talking to your baby:
- You should also not dumb down your speech or restrict words.
- The more the variety of words, the better
- Speak slowly and clearly. When I say slowly, I don’t mean that you should drag the words oh! Just slow enough that the words are distinct and the sounds are clear
- I am not saying you should babble 24/7 to your child but there are plenty opportunities especially during care i.e. when you are feeding, bathing, changing or just caring for your child. Use these opportunities to tell the child what you are doing. You can also point out body parts and items. Here are some examples: “I am going to bathe you now”, “This is your hand. I am washing it”, “Time to eat”, “You look happy” “I am going to put your shirt over your head”, “Look, that’s a dog”, “The sun is so hot today” etc. I hope you get the idea. People might look at you like you’re crazy but you have to remember that you are supporting your child’s brain and you can use the opportunity to educate them about what you are doing
- Allow opportunities for your child to observe conversations. These can include conversations between both parents, between you and friends etc. It is important to mention here that having the baby listen to word or conversations by watching television DOES NOT COUNT! Matter of fact, It has been proven over and over again that exposure to television before the age of two decreases IQ and causes behavioral problems.
- Smile at your child and communicate emotions when you speak
- Make eye contact
- When the child starts to make sounds, even if you don’t understand, listen and respond. This communicates to the child that you like hearing him/her. You can respond by repeating the sounds and/or talking back. “Interesting!”, “I wish I understand what you are saying”. It is ok to keep it real.
- Read to your child. Reading is awesome because it allows the child to observe and get interested in reading but also expands the vocabulary.
- Sing to your child and also listen to music together. Listening to music this this case is not watching music videos. Put in a cd or your iPod and turn off other distractions so that you can really listen and enjoy
- Again, you don’t have to babble 24 hours of the day. It is also ok to sit in silence and enjoy the silence. I know it’s one of my favorite things to do.
In addition to observing, the child needs sensory stimulation and experience in the environment to support learning and thus brain development. Again this requires the parent to provide the right environment. Because the kind of stimulation and experiences required depends on the level of development and this changes from month to month, I will address 3 months and a time. Please check the next post for 0-3 months.
I apologize for having to break down these posts. There is so much I want to share with you but I also don’t want to overload or bombard you which is why I break down the posts.
To summarize this post, babies learn by observing their environments. Parents should provide safe, interesting, beautiful environments for the child to observe and model the right behaviors. It is very very very important to talk to your child from the day they are born. You can talk about the things you are doing to them, what they are experiencing or just things in the environment. Reading and singing are also very good for babies while TVs are bad.
As always, I would love to hear your questions and comments. To be honest, I haven’t figured out if my posts have the right tone or level of detail so I would really appreciate your feedback. Does anything confuse you? Would you like more detail? Less detail? Please let me know! I write for you.
You can also learn more about supporting infants by taking my e-course
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