Learning Tools

Does Learning begin at School?

When we become parents we all wonder what our children will be like when they grow up. “Will they do well in school? Will they be happy?” Scientists now believe that the answers to these questions depend in large part on how the baby’s brain develops, and that this development in turn depends largely on the kinds of experiences that his parents, extended family, and community provide for him in the first few years.

In the first years of your baby’s life, the brain is busy building its wiring system. Sensory experiences- light, sound, smells, things to touch, things to taste- cause the baby’s brain to create trillions of connections, which essentially “wire” the brain for learning. The brain operates on a “use it or lose it” principle. Repetitive stimulation strengthens these connections and makes them permanent, whereas young connections that don’t get used eventually die out. So to enable enhanced learning in the future, your baby’s brain needs to build more circuitry, for which you need to give him more stimulating experiences that make him use as many connections as possible.

The amount of connections in the brain can increase or decrease by 25 percent depending on the environment and stimulation.

What this means is that children reared in environments where stimulation is limited, actually have fewer synapses than those raised in environments where they are regularly talked to, held, and visually stimulated. You may not have realized it, but all of the things that you do with your baby regularly add up: When you sing to an infant, talk to her, hold her, play with her, and give her appropriate toys and objects to explore, you are creating an environment that enables her brain to develop to its maximum potential. In fact research shows that parental attention, even something as simple as a game of peek a boo, helps construct the complex circuitry necessary for intellectual development.

There seems to be a timetable for this programming of infant brains. The cells governing vision, for instance, show a growth spurt in the first six months and are connected to 15,000 others by eight months of age. This essentially means that exposure to bright colourful mobiles in the first six – eight months increase the child’s vision connections tremendously. Similarly a newborn has the capacity to distinguish among sounds in any human language. Thus a baby can produce sounds that as an adult you may find difficult to pronounce because you were not exposed to the languages that use those particular sounds.

The number of connections increases rapidly until age 3, the brain creating twice as many as it will ever need. The number of connections holds steady until age 10, then unused connections begin to disappear. An adult’s brain actually contains fewer connections than that of a 3-year-old child. Therefore by the time the child actually starts school or pre-school at around the age of 3 yrs the brain development has already taken place to a great extent. So the school can only teach the child as much as his brain can absorb, but it can’t help develop the brain. The first three years of a baby’s life are therefore very important as far as the development of his brain is concerned.

Does this mean however, that your child is irretrievably handicapped if for some reason you missed those crucial first years? No, because opportunities to strengthen brain connections exist throughout childhood even though the number of connections formed decreases with age. Thus while a three year old will pick up new languages faster than a nine year old, the nine year old will definitely pick up the language faster than an adult. Neural networks continue to develop into the teens, particularly those for emotions. So your involvement remains important as the child matures, intellectually and emotionally, well into the late teen years.

Education is a process and your role as your child’s most involved teacher is a lifelong one.

What can you do to enhance your baby’s IQ? You don’t have to start formal education immediately after the birth, but you do have to ensure that she gets your full and playful attention in those vital early months and years. Also :-

  • Talk to your newborn – the child will pick up grammar, vocabulary, intonation and pronunciations – and remember her linguistic cells are firing away with great rapidity! Early command of language is important to successful intellectual development.
  • Look her in the eye when you talk- eye contact strengthens brain connections into a pattern of recognition and helps your child sort out what is familiar, what is not, what is different each time and what remains the same – all crucial skills in learning.
  • Bring music into your life – lullabies and jingles not only soothe but also help brain development. Short stories and Music dramatically improves spatial temporal reasoning and help in later understanding of science and math.
  • Encourage explorations – a child builds up experience and intellect through an exploration of his world. Take the time to explore with them by stimulating all five senses.
  • Label everything – experts claim that even babies can recognize the difference between red and green. Encourage this ability to sort and distinguish and assimilate by labeling everything your baby can see. He is understanding far more than you think.
  • Praise extensively – praise reinforces connections between the frontal cortex and the amygdala in the midbrain, the seat of emotions. Your praise inspires the child to both make more efforts and to risk new efforts.

Don’t stop after the first three years. As we said before, it’ll be a long time before your child’s brain development stops responding to you.

Further research : preschool curriculum

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