Start Them Young: What Can Babies Really Learn?
Gazing down at our little one, it has probably crossed your mind: how much of what I’m cooing at my baby can he/she understand? Am I reading their cues correctly or are they not comprehending their surroundings as much as I think they are? When’s the best time to start their learning experience?
These musings can be broken down into 3 main questions:
Babies are born with an innate learning mechanism and are given one simple task: go out and figure out the world. Michelle De Haan, a developmental cognitive neuroscientist at UCL, found that babies don't randomly engage with the world around them. They have preferences, betrayed by how long they stare at one thing over another; they also appear to understand rational action proven through a study where an assessment of watching two cartoon clips with variants of action was conducted. It’s our responsibility as parents to provide our little ones with the right tools they can use to observe, explore and learn.
“Everything is new in the world, and everything is being created in the brain.”
Using the tools they have at hand (sound, movement, smell, sight and interaction,) babies are already on a mission to learn more about everything around them. They learn to recognize colors, cues, facial expressions and in turn produce sounds, movements and gestures to communicate their needs from as early on as day one.
“Children learn as they play. Most importantly, in play children learn how to learn.”
Playtime is no easy feat for toddlers! Every time a child touches, feels, tastes, hears or sees something new, messages are sent to their brain and, in turn, brain cells make connections that they will come recognize more quickly the next time.
The more connections a baby makes, the better their brain will work. Shaking a rattle will promote hand-eye coordination, fine motor skills and the understanding of cause and effect. Reading a board book or using flashcards will help with cognitive development, language, fine motor skills (from turning the pages or turning the flashcards over), visual perception and attention span. Through playing with our babies and raising their interest we aid in shaping their brain for the future.
Don’t be daunted by using learning tools like flashcards. Your baby isn’t expected to suddenly start pronouncing words. Start small and be consistent in building. Use simple methods such as repeating words and sounds for your baby to mimic, point at the written words on the flashcards so they can learn to recognize the words, little by little, ask them to match the words and/or sounds to the right shape. Once your child is ready, you can start going beyond recognition of words and sounds to the actual production of words.
Learning through play gives your child more power over their own learning; they can take the lead and give you clues to their preferred learning style and astonish you with what they’ve gathered together so far.
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