Supporting the Learning Process for Babies

Babies are natural learners. They are curious and eager to explore and experiment. As care providers, the best thing we can do is sit back and support the explorations that drive them.

This video was taken by Janet Lansbury, a trained parent educator, and highlights the innate curiosity of infants. In her blog, Lansbury reminds us:

All babies need is a safe, peaceful environment, some basic objects to examine (unnecessary until they are 3 or 4 months old) and many opportunities throughout the day to move freely and make their own choices without our interruption.

As you watch this video clip, notice:

  • the child is free to move about and develop his motor skills
  • the simplicity of the materials that the child chooses to explore
  • the opportunities the child has to problem-solve as he explores these simple materials
  • many of the child’s senses are supported and engaged (visual, tactile, auditory)
  • adults respond to baby when he initiates interaction (getting adult attention through eye contact or sounds), and don’t intrude upon his exploration

As caregivers we want to make sure we are doing all that we can to help our babies learn and grow. What we need to remember is that there really is very little that we need to do! Our babies are experts at doing. All we need to do is have confidence in their abilities as self-directed learners and be there to support them when they need us.

 

Do Babies Really Understand Words?

We’ve all been told to speak to our babies to encourage their language development, but how much does an infant really understand? New evidence shows that they understand quite a bit!

A recent study out of the University of California, San Diego shows that baby brains process words just as adult brains do. This flies in the face of the idea that baby learning is more primitive and with time the brain processes information in a more sophisticated way. You can learn more about this study in this article in PsychCentral.

So, talk to your baby. Use real words. Read with your infant. Create an environment full of wonderful language and know that every word is soaking in.

As for future implications of a study like this, I worry it may be used to support the idea that even infants should be placed in a “school setting” similar to that of older children. I hope it will help people to see that even older children would benefit from the more holistic, integrated natural learning environments that help babies to thrive.

Invest in Early Ed and Care- The Video

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. This video is worth so much more! Through the voices of 4 children (an infant – 4 years old) we hear and see the effects of poverty and a lack of a positive environment in the early years. The video clip is targeted to New Mexico legislators, but the facts and statistics presented apply to every community across the country. We can invest in children and save money. It’s a win-win!

Music as a Bonding Experience

Routines and rituals are important. They help to guide children through transitions (cleaning up, starting the day at school, getting ready for bath or bed, etc.). They connect us to our past, our cultures, our communities. Songs can be an important element of any routine or ritual, and by singing with our children, not only are our voices connecting, but our hearts are as well.

At a recent event for Gryphon House authors I had the opportunity to meet Jackie Silberg, a very kind person, wonderful musician and prolific author. She is a wealth of information about music and young children. In her blog she promotes music as a family experience and provides several example of how music can bring families closer together. She begins with infants, and goes on to give family music tips for all ages.

When you hold a baby and sing to him, all of his senses are stimulated. He hears your voice, he sees your face, he smells your  body and  feels your vibrations as you sing.

Through song we can be present with children, even if we are not right next to them. We can guide their actions through gentle words and music. Songs can teach children about seasonal changes or prepare them for big events. Traditional songs also help children connect to the past and to their greater community.

Teachers and families can learn from one another when it comes to music. Parents who struggle with transition time issues can use music to prepare children for a change of activity or place. Learn or make up clean up songs, bath or bedtime songs, travel songs, etc.

Teachers can move beyond typical transition or large group songs and explore sharing a song with an individual child or small group. Get silly with a child or two and make up songs together.

The holiday season is an especially wonderful time to make the effort to bring positive musical experiences into your home or classroom. With all that is going on families and teachers are stressed. Kids feel this and it effects them. Music is a great stress reliever. Just by sharing a song we can build and reinforce positive relationships with our children.

For ideas on how to share music with your infants and toddlers, check out the WoW Kits Making Music with Little Ones Bag or Binder.

Baby Brain Map

Zero to Three, an organization promoting the healthy development of infants and toddlers, has a wonderful section of its website called the “Baby Brain Map.” Here parents and caregivers can learn about the specific areas of the brain that are especially active or developing during different age spans.

To use this tool, chose an age-range to focus on from a drop-down menu. You’ll see an image of the brain and depending on the age you have chosen, different developmental areas (language, gross motor, etc.) will be marked on the brain image. Then, you can click on an area you are especially interested in, say, “Language”, and all kinds of tips and information about promoting language development in a child of this age will appear. Pretty cool!

Read to Your Baby

It’s never too early to start reading to your child. Even babies benefit from being read to, and the benefits are deep and long-lasting.

Language- Through books babies learn vocabulary and when you talk to them about the pictures you see, they learn communication skills

Social/Emotional- taking the time to sit together, with baby in your lap, making eye contact and conversation (even if it is 0ne-sided) all work together to deepen bonds and social skills

Body/Sensory Awareness- touch and feel books and books with squeakers, flaps or other interactive elements help baby gain sensory awareness and practice body movements

Ideas for More Fun with Baby- books can be the inspiration for all kinds of other fun activities with baby including new ideas for outings, songs to sing or things to explore.

If you’re feeling a little silly at the idea of reading to a baby, need some ideas on how to get started, or are looking for easy-to-read information to pass along to other parents, check out these online tips by the Early Childhood Learning and Knowledge Center.

Also be sure to check out the Family Literacy Bags and Infant and Toddler curriculum at WoWKits. They are full of great reading ideas for infants and toddlers.

Communication: A Skill Best Taught By Example

It’s easy to underestimate the language abilities of young children. Because infants and many young toddlers can’t communicate with words, we often assume that they can’t understand and don’t need to understand what is going on around them. The reality is that children understand language well before they can speak it. Communication begins at birth.

Infants express their needs by crying. Over time, a parent who is really listening to their baby often begins to distinguish the sleepy cry from the hungry cry, the bored cry from the uncomfortable cry. Likewise, our infants learn by listening to us. When we look at our babies and talk to them they learn to read our facial expression and tone of voice. They are learning the basics of communication.

As children grow and begin to develop language skills, they are able to understand words long before they can speak them. The more you talk with your child, the more words they learn. Their vocabulary is growing, even before they can talk. When you take the time to really involve your child in conversation (even if it is a little one-sided) their ability to read body language grows and their motivation to speak increases. Your relationship grows too.

A recent article in the New York Times talks about the threat that modern technology poses to children’s early language development. When you combine the fact that young children aren’t the best conversationalists with the reality that most adults have a cell phone or blackberry at hand at all times, it’s easy to see that parents or other caregivers of young children might spend a lot of time talking on the phone or texting and not so much time talking with their child. The result is that many of today’s young children are missing out on the opportunity to learn communication skills by example.

Here are some tips to encourage communication with infants and toddlers:

  • Talk during daily care routines– tell your child what you are going to do before you do it, “Let’s go change your diaper.” Look into your child’s eyes and really talk to him during the experience. Talk about the food you are giving at meal time, what you are doing as you change a diaper, what you will do today as you dress the child, etc.
  • Talk to your child while you are out for a walk. Point out buildings, birds or objects as you walk. Talk about where you are going and what you will do when you get there.
  • Look at books with your child. Talk about the pictures or textures on the pages. Point to, name and describe the objects you see.
  • Make eye contact as often as possible.
  • Encourage your child’s attempts at communication. Give your child the word for an object she points to. Reward your child’s attempts at speech with your attention and enthusiasm.
  • Be aware of when and how often you are using your phone or blackberry.