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We often exhibit the Practica Programme at baby shows and expo’s in South Africa and it’s truly mind-boggling to see how many products are available to new parents nowadays. I can imagine that entering into the world of parenthood must be very exciting and a little daunting at the same time – especially for first-time parents – and even more so if you don’t have unlimited funds available …
To add to the pressure, developmental scientists are often quoted as saying that ‘rich environments build rich brains’. I can imagine that it must be easy to confuse ‘rich environments’ for luxurious prams and rooms filled to the rafters with toys.
The good news is that the researchers are actually referring to an environment that is abundantly blessed with loving interaction between baby and adult – whether a parent or a carer.
The fact is babies under the age of three learn very little from toys and other babies; they learn from adults. (And that is something that we have to keep in mind when we consider day care options for our children…)
Numerous studies show that, when it comes to maximal brain development, children need a loving adult more than anything else during the early years of life. The company of a loving adult is absolutely crucial to anchor, colour and ‘decode’ a little one’s world, especially during the first 3 years of life. You are the key!
Picture a 14-month-old baby playing with toys next to another 14-month-old baby. Now picture the same baby playing with an adult in the very same situation. What’s different? And why is this difference so important?
1. Adults can provide language. Babies and toddlers cannot. Expensive toys cannot. Words, gestures and facial expressions add special meaning to experiences. In fact, being immersed in language is so crucial for building young brains and fostering intellectual, social and emotional skills that developmentalists often refer to language as being as effective as water on a seed☺!
2. Adults can point things out, repeat things over and over again and add emotions of excitement to help a child to focus his attention for maximum brain gain. This makes it and easy for a little one to discover things in his world that would otherwise simply pass him by if he was spending most of his time in the company of other babies, or amidst expensive equipment, without the first-hand involvement of an interested adult.
3. A loving adult can make the most of simple daily experiences by turning even the most basic little activity like changing a nappy or feeding a cat into a step-by-step sequence of exciting events. Real life is the class room where under 3’s learn. And when your baby starts to recognise patterns and begins to predict what’s going to happen next in a familiar situation, you can take this as a sure sign that huge strides are being made with regards to his intellectual development.
4. Lastly, and most importantly, only a loving adult can provide a young child with a deep sense of security. A baby or toddler simply needs to spend his days in the company of a key-adult with whom he has formed a safe attachment. In the absence of this most important key factor, a young child experiences toxic levels of stress that causes his little brain to be “marinated” in stress hormones that eat away at the neural networks on a daily basis.
To learn more, have a look at the Harvard Center’s series of two-minute videos on what it takes to build a brain during the first years of life:
Written by Lizette van Huyssteen
When we know better… we do better.