I’ve been researching a lot about baby development since before I became pregnant with Kamea. Even though Kamea is only 7 months old, we have been doing things with her since birth to promote development. I consider this as starting her homeschool even at this young age. So, I plan to blog about these homeschooling activities and share what we are doing and I welcome comments and sharing about what other parents are doing out there to promote development and what homeschooling activities you do.
Did you know that a baby is born with an IQ that is not fixed? There is a range that’s determined by genes, but within that range, IQ can vary as much as 20-30 points depending on pre- and postnatal environmental exposure such as nutrition, health, and experiences. Thus, nature and nurture are braided together.
It’s the environmental experiences I’m focusing on today. It’s fascinating to know that the majority of the brain’s wiring actually occurs during the first few years of life. Most of the brain cells are created before birth, but the all-important connections between them are primarily formed after birth. Before kindergarten, a baby’s brain is developing, growing, and soaking up information like a sponge. Much of the wiring for specific brain structures occurs during critical developmental windows, meaning if certain wiring doesn’t occur by a certain time, it never will. For this reason, from almost the day Kamea was born, Greg and I wasted no time in getting started.
There have been a number of things we’ve done so far…
Stimulating Shapes and Contrasting Colors – I think most parents know about this one. During those first months babies are attracted to black and white, sometimes red and bright yellow. The clear and sharp contrasts capture and hold a baby’s attention. To support this, I bought a cute black and white board book (you can find a number of them on Amazon, like this one). Greg and I also drew pictures with black marker on white paper. We started with simple shapes and very high contrast images (like the ninja) and gradually added more complexity. It was fascinating to watch Kamea’s reactions and observe what kinds of stimuli she was responding to (simple shapes vs. complex patterns vs. vs animals, faces, colors, etc.), and see how this changed over time. We taped the drawings to the wall all over our home, in areas where she would see them frequently or for extended periods of time. She loved staring at them. (Ummm… can you guess which one of these four I drew? lol)
Stimulating shapes and colors isn’t the only way to capture and hold a baby’s attention though. Changing your voice is important, too. We would talk to Kamea in a soft voice, loud voice, and funny voices. We make animal noises, which delight her… as though she knows we’re being goofy.
Size matters as well. Showing your baby toys and objects of different sizes is great for attracting your baby’s attention and helping him/her wire more neural connections.
Finally, novelty is important. Nature plays a strong role here in that we’re wired to pay special attention to new things, people, sounds, etc., not just merely from curiosity, but as a survival mechanism that tunes us for noticing things that are new or different in our environment. This doesn’t mean you must constantly buy new toys though. A couple of ways to maintain novelty is to rotate toys, change the locations of where they are in the house, let baby play with things you wouldn’t consider toys: measuring cups, kitchen gadgets, office supplies, etc. And then talk with your baby, describe the items, and play with your baby while he or she is checking them out. Of course, you’ll want to watch your baby at all times when playing with items like these. One safety test is to see if the object is small enough to fit through a toilet paper tube. If it does, it could be a potential choking hazard and is not a good toy.
Classical Music – This is another popular one, a cliche even, ever since Yuppies popularized it in the 80s. Playing classical music to facilitate baby’s learning is known as the “Mozart Effect”… although Bach, Beethoven, or other classical composers are purported to be appropriate as well. We often play classical music when we’re just doing stuff around the house. It’s reputed to help with the development of spatial-temporal reasoning. Furthermore, teaching Kamea to play an instrument is believed to have life-long enhancement of spatial reasoning skills, which is important later on for math, art, and efficiently packing the trunk of your car.
My brother, now an accomplished musician, began playing piano by ear at age three. Although Kamea is too young to even hold an instrument, let alone learn to play one, she already delights in banging on her daddy’s guitar strings and she seems to understand that her actions are indeed what’s causing the strange, new sounds. The most important thing is that baby is having fun, as this begins to establish all learning as something that’s enjoyable. Best of all, her spastic little guitar riffs sometimes occupy her attention for a good 15 minutes, a blissful eternity in mommy-entertaining-baby time. Future genius brain wiring or not, her cute little pats on the fretboard and resulting giggles are music to my ears.
In Part Two of this post, I’ll talk about reading, talking, tummy time, and a few more important things we’ve been paying attention to with Kamea’s development.