I watched my young son pick up a Cheerio between his index finger and thumb, marveling over his newly discovered ability.
He'd learned so much in a few short months, growing from a helpless, sleepy newborn to an alert, bright-eyed individual.
As soon as your baby is born, he's equipped and ready to learn. In fact, many scientists believe learning begins before birth. Studies have demonstrated that even in the womb, babies can interpret sounds, flavors and vibrations.
After birth, learning and development continue in a gradual, orderly and predictable fashion. For example, babies must master simple whole body movements like rolling before they can learn to pull themselves into a sitting position. As they grow, they become skilled at tasks that require greater finesse. Each accomplishment leads to another, slightly more complicated, skill.
The early weeks and months of a baby's life are critical to his future learning and development. As soon as you bring your baby home, you can begin to stimulate the learning process. Early stimulation of his senses?touch, hearing and sight?will enable your child to become proficient at gathering and interpreting information later on. For example, babies aren't born with 20/20 vision. But with practice, their vision quickly becomes more acute.
Babies learn by doing, by reacting to their surroundings at their own pace. Your baby is instinctively motivated to practice tasks that interest him again and again. He's miraculously and internally programmed to take the logical next step in his development.
Your role as parent is key to your baby's learning process. It's your privilege to provide opportunities for him to learn.
"An infant can't seek out stimulation. He can only access what's provided for him," says family physician Michael Flanagan. "Babies thrive when they enjoy adequate stimulation. On the other hand, studies show that babies who don't have adequate opportunities for learning experience delays in their development."
Try letting your baby practice using some of his senses in the following ways:
Hold and cuddle your baby.
Drizzle water over her tummy at bathtime.
Let him feel grass or a rough carpet with his bare feet.
Let her sit in the sand and run it through her fingers.
Provide a variety of textured toys and objects to examine and explore. Look for toys that your baby can hold and manipulate, but be aware of safety. Don't give your baby anything that includes small pieces that can detach and be swallowed or cause choking.
Provide shiny, bright colors and contrasting shades for your baby to look at. Draw simple black designs on white paper or make a mobile by hanging interesting objects from a rod. For safety, be sure to move mobiles higher once your baby is able to reach them.
Change the location of your baby's crib and highchair every few weeks to give him new things to look at.
Provide lots of eye contact?especially with family members. Babies are fascinated with the human face.
Provide rattles or noisy things like pots and pans to bang on. Play a game by shaking a rattle or squeaking a toy, just out of baby's sight. Encourage her to turn to look at it.
Talk and sing to your baby. He is learning to focus on the human voice and soon will understand the meaning of some words.
?Faith Tibbetts McDonald
Writer, educator, mother of three
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1999 by the author or Christianity Today/Christian Parenting Today Magazine.
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