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Teaching Babies 101: Learning the Fun Way

May 19, 2008
Early childhood - particularly the period from five months' gestation to five years of age - presents a unique window of opportunity for learning. As babies' and small children's brains are highly plastic (adaptable), teaching your child during this critical period can produce long-lasting benefits.

Before you design a teaching program for your baby and yourself, you need to know the basics about teaching babies. While methods may differ, early education experts agree on the following essential ingredients for happiness and success in teaching babies:

* Affection
* Nutrition
* Repetition
* Stimulation

Affection

Happy children learn things easily and quickly - and nothing makes a child happier than knowing he is loved unconditionally by his parents. Here's what the experts have to say about the importance of giving affection...

"Loving interactions with children form the firm basis of all human growth." - Susan Ludington-Hoe, professor of pediatric nursing and author of How To Have A Smarter Baby

"Love creates the mind." - Makoto Shichida, professor of education and founder of the Shichida Education Institute, which provides right-brain training to infants and children

"Children have hidden wonderful potentials. What draws them out are the parents' love and trust towards their children." - Shimayo Shichida, managing director of the Shichida Education Institute

"Intellectual skills, like forming ideas, solving problems, thinking logically, using symbols, and developing grammar are all linked to a child's emotional growth." - Linda Acredolo and Susan Goodwyn, psychologists, child development experts and authors of Baby Minds and Baby Signs

Nutrition

From the time of conception, nutrition has an important role to play in brain development - as Lise Eliot, neurobiologist and author of What's Going On In There? Explains...

* Between four months prenatal and two years after birth, your baby's brain is highly sensitive to the quantity and quality of nutrients he consumes.

* Malnourished children have smaller brains, fewer neurons and synapses, shorter dendrites and less myelin.

* Brain-building foods include protein, dairy products, fresh fruit and vegetables, and vitamin-fortified milk and grains.

* A deficiency in iron can cause anemia, with too few red blood cells carrying oxygen to the brain. Prolonged anemia at any time in infancy can stunt cognitive development.

* Of the 45 nutrients essential for body growth, 38 are essential for neurological development.

* Children reared on breast milk score up to eight points higher on IQ tests at the age of eight.

Repetition

"Again, again!" There's a reason children drive us crazy with their requests to do or hear the same thing over and over: children learn best through repetition. Here's what the experts have to say:

"You should repeat a stimulus until habituation occurs; then stop." - Susan Ludington-Hoe

"A child masters an activity by repeating it; at the same time, she is programming and strengthening the neural pathways in her brain. Allow and even encourage - your child to repeat activities if they involve new skills she is developing." - Winifred Conkling

"Going over the story [in a book] more than once enables a child to learn new vocabulary items well enough to use them in answer to questions." - Linda Acredolo and Susan Goodwyn

Stimulation

As parents, we have a critical part to play in helping our children realize their full intellectual potential. The time for action is in very early childhood, because babies and small children love to learn, and they learn effortlessly. Here's what the experts have to say...

"The best time to tap into your baby's innate abilities, the capacities that all children are born with, is when his brain cells are rapidly growing and making new connections." - Makoto Shichida

"Never forget that when you are giving a child visual, auditory, and tactile stimulation with increased frequency, intensity and duration that you are actually physically growing his brain." - Glenn Dorman

"Improve your child's ability to learn by using more than one of the five senses. When we use different senses we create multiple encoding, which increases the number of sites where information is stored." - Winifred Conkling

"There is, however, a limit to how much stimulation a young child should have. Too many toys, activities, and outings can create confusion and actually work to a child's detriment, hampering his ability to focus. Children are usually pretty good at telling us when they are bored but not when they are over-stimulated. Their behavior is often the only sign." - Lise Eliot

Now you know the basics, it's time to design a personalized teaching program for your baby. From birth, be sure to speak, sing and play music to your baby as much as possible.

To enhance communication and reduce frustration, you might consider teaching your baby sign language. Any time from four months of age (and preferably before one year old), you can start word and math flash cards. And don't forget to make time for encouraging your baby's physical development.
About the Author
Madeleine is the Managing Editor @ Brillbaby.com
Got a question or concern? Email the Editor, who is currently teaching her own baby and blogging about it. Visit http://www.BrillBaby.com/blog
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