Helping babies build their brains

 

In last week’s post, I wrote that a baby’s brain is very undeveloped at birth, owing to the relatively small size of a newborn’s head. In fact, the newly born child has all the brain cells (neurons) he will ever need but they aren’t able to communicate with each other very efficiently. 

 One of the most important developmental stages in these early days is for the infant to do what is necessary for these neurons to connect to each other. Eventually, he’ll end up with neural networks that are needed for learning and living.  These networks provide us with the ability to learn language, interpret sound and vision, control emotions, think and remember.  The quality of the brain cells themselves and the way they connect to each other will determine whether that individual grows up with an average or a really smart brain.

 Some of this will depend on the child’s genes but a great deal will depend on the environment you provide and in which the child will develop.  It’s not true that clever parents will automatically have clever children. Academic success and intelligence are hugely reliant on a growing environment that is characterized by lots of love, little stress, mental stimulation and a good diet.

 Mental stimulation is not provided by mindless facts. Many children can learn to count, recite the alphabet, give correct answers to learned questions and so on, but these don’t indicate a good brain.  Essentially, as Dr David Perlmutter points out in his book (see reference below), the goal of parent’s interactions with their young children should not be whatthe children learn but howthey learn it.   Stay away from activities that dull their brains, deaden their senses and put them at risk for later learning difficulties.

 It’s better for a developing brain to learn what letters and numbers represent rather than being able to spell or count.  In order for this to happen, they need to learn their shapes and understand that letters and numbers are symbols that carry meaning according to their shapes.

 It’s also important that the connections being made by the neurons are firmly cemented in place.  For this to happen, children need repetition of incoming mental stimulation.  Most seek this out automatically by insisting that parents reinforce learning.  Most of us know how a child will demand the same story over and over again, or be happy to watch the same film again and again. This is a good example of how children learn and how they strengthen the connections in their neural networks.

 Here’s one example of a brain-building activity given by Dr Perlmutter that will help the child to learn the meaning of numbers:

 For a child beginning at around age 12 months:  Find a puzzle containing pieces shaped from numbers 1 to 10.   Fitting the numbers into their correct places allows the child to experience the ‘feel’ qualities of numbers, which helps to ingrain the picture of the number into their brains.   You can enhance her experience by showing her what a particular number represents. For example, when she puts the number 2 into the correct place on the puzzle board, hand her two small balls and say “Two.”  Every time she puts back another puzzle piece, add balls to her collection until the puzzle is completed. This paves the way for early recognition of the symbolic nature of numbers.  This is far more beneficial than simply teaching the child to memorise counting from one to ten.

 Acknowledgement is given to Dr David Perlmutter who wrote the informative book Raise a smarter child by kindergarten: Build a better brain and increase IQ up to 30 points.Available from Amazon books.

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