Give Your Child a Clear Advantage!

Did you know that children can hear and experience the world even many months before they are born? And that the first two years are especially important for brain development? With new research into neuroscience and infant development, you can take advantage of recently-discovered scientific knowledge that will help your child develop her or his full potential and give him or her a head start in the world.

      1. Give children as much stimulation as you can, early on. If you've seen those mothers-to-be with headphones on their tummies playing Mozart to their unborn children, they have exactly the right idea. Recent research has shown that even before children develop ears or hearing, that classical music can enhance growth and development. Classical music from a variety of periods, especially music played on historical instruments, will provide a number of different sounds for your child to experience. (Don't neglect vocal classical music, such as masses, opera, or lieder, because processing voices is fundamental to a child's neurological development.) But, in addition to playing classical music, reading books to your unborn child, or talking to her or him, will help your infant's growth and development. Prenatal massage is also a great way to help your unborn child establish contact with the outside world. Children in the womb experience the benefits of prenatal massage very early on in their development. (And, of course, the mothers experience the benefits, too!) Brain Response to Classical Music
      2. Stay away, as much as possible, from artificial fragrances and all other toxic ingredients in shampoos, conditioners, cosmetics, and household cleaners. Limit the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, and if you were to pick one single period of life to eat organic food as much as possible, the prenatal months and early childhood would be the time to do it.
      3. Once your infant is born, continue to give her or him as much stimulation as they are able to absorb without stress. Frequently stroking and cuddling your infant, and giving him or her exposure to new and different sights, smells, sounds, and textures, will help her or his brain to expand in order to deal with new information. If you can find a massage therapist for infant massage, you can help your child's muscles stay in excellent shape, which may promote certain physical activities much earlier than they would develop otherwise. Make a habit of holding your infant facing outwards, rather than in towards you, so that your child can see what is going on in the world. Rather than talking "baby talk" to your infant, talk in adult words, and if you are bilingual, talk in different languages. The more information your child is exposed to, the more her or his brain will develop in order to process the information. Be sure to discuss the new experiences with your child in a calm, positive tone of voice.
      4. Model the behaviour you wish your child to imitate. Speak politely and calmly, not only to your infant, but to other people as well, and show an interest in the outside world and in other people. Talk in an encouraging, somewhat high-pitched "play" voice and point out interesting things. Even before children start on regular food, or even baby food, you can introduce them to different tastes and smells, simply by dipping your finger in food and letting them smell and taste it. (If your child makes the "eeeeuwww" face when they try something, laugh until they laugh with you!)
      5. As children mature, encourage them to be brave and explore the world around them. Experiment with them, making and building different objects. Include them, as much as possible, in all your daily activities, and do not talk down to them, but rather continue to use adult language, and different languages, where possible. When children seem unsure, give them a big, encouraging smile and talk to them in a positive, confident tone, instead of a fearful or unsure tone. You never know where their explorations will lead; I know of a toddler who spontaneously taught himself to multiply correctly at age two, using the holes in crackers! Perhaps because his parents encouraged him, buying crackers of different shapes and sizes, he grew up to excel in mathematics.
      6. Read out loud to your child as much as possible: not only from children's books, but from more adult subjects, such as history or science, or even the newspaper, as well. The faster you can expose your child to adult language and subjects, the more his or her brain will develop.
      7. Encourage interaction with other children and adults as much as possible. By exposing your child to many different people, your child will develop social skills that will enable her or him to cope with the world in a much easier manner. Again, many mothers carry children facing them; instead, have him or her face outwards towards the world, which will encourage more curiosity and interaction with others.
      8. Limit exposure to television and video games. If you need to temporarily distract your child with television, instead of cartoons, try educational programs. I've had five-year-old children successfully learn about all kinds of historical or scientific subjects from programs aimed at college students, even if they did not understand every word or concept. You can also play audiobooks if you need a temporary distraction. Language learning courses are a great way to expose your child to a variety of sounds and grammatical structures early in life.

One warning must be mentioned: far too often have I seen parents try to distract fussy children or infants with their keys. Many house and car keys contain toxic levels of lead, which can cause significant brain damage even in the tiniest amounts when ingested. The levels of lead that are presumed to be safe keep getting lowered more and more frequently, and, in fact, there may not be a safe level of lead ingestion. Never, ever, give an infant your keyring to play with! Instead, find some other way to distract your child. 

By incorporating all these strategies into your child's prenatal and early life, you will be giving her or him the necessary skills, the physical development, and the brain development to deal with the situations your child will encounter later: in school, at work, and in the world at large. And we all want our children to be as successful as possible!

Scaffolding Children's Learning: Vygotsky and Early Childhood Education (Naeyc Research Into Practice Series, Vol. 7)
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Vygotsky is one of the leading researchers into early childhood learning, and understanding his research is vital to our evolving knowledge of how our children become happy and successful.