From the moment your child enters the world, he/she has set out on a path of lifelong learning. As parents, one of your goals is to seize those precious teachable moments in everyday life. Even the youngest child benefits from these opportunities. So it's not an exaggeration to say that it’s never too early to get ready for school.
Here are some things to keep in mind to give your baby the best possible start in learning. But always remember that learning happens best in the context of a warm, nurturing relationship that's just as focused on social and emotional development as well.
Developing a Learning-Ready Brain
A well-functioning brain is an organized network made up of brain cells (neurons) and the connections between neurons (synapses). Synapses link up to form neural pathways. During the first three years of life, most of the synapses are formed. Synapses that are activated frequently (as a baby or toddler is talked to, touched, interacted with) tend to become permanent. Those that aren't used, or are used infrequently, tend to be "pruned out." Interaction with caring adults in the first three years of life is critical for brain development and ultimately, for success in school.
Sometimes Being All Talk is a Good Thing
Research has shown that children of talkative mothers have larger vocabularies than children of less talkative mothers. But more than just talking to children, it's talking responsively that's important - a child coos or babbles and you coo or babble back as if you were having a conversation. The "give and take" of language is almost as important for babies to learn as the words themselves.
Are You Fluent in Parent-ese?
Ever notice how some adults use a completely different speaking style when they're interacting with babies? Higher pitch. Shorter phrases. Slower rate. Repetition. Sometimes referred to as "parentese," this style is actually a highly effective approach in helping babies learn language. Not to be confused with what's commonly known as "baby talk," "parentese" is adjusting the quality of your speech to what babies are attuned to hear. Babies as young as three months begin to perceive the emotional intonations of the speech they hear.
Virtual Interaction is No Substitute for the Real Thing
Nothing replaces the rich, hands-on, active interaction between you and your baby in learning language. While television and computer programs might offer a form of language stimulation, they simply do not measure up to what you can offer in adapting his/her verbal interaction to the situation.
If You Were to Do Just One Thing
Reading to children, even infants and toddlers, is the most important factor in children having later success as readers. Nursery rhymes and songs also help children remember words and learn the pattern and rhythm of language.
Wolfe, P & Nevills, P. (2004). Building the Reading Brain. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.