How to Foster Your Baby’s Learning in the First Year
By Jamell Andrews
Many young parents assume that there is not much happening in a baby’s mind during the first few months of life. This may be somewhat true when it comes to the first month, when the baby mostly just learns to use her senses, recognize her parents, and ask for things. After the first month, however, learning picks up at a tremendous pace, and parents who make good use of this time can greatly increase their chances of raising a smart child.
Learning during months 1 to 3
After the first month, you will probably notice your baby becoming more alert and expressive. While the first month of the baby’s life can feel like repetitive work for the parents, things become more exciting during the second month as the baby begins to develop a stronger personality. She will develop the physical strength needed to move around on her own, and she will also become much more responsive to your talking.
Another thing you may notice during these months is that the baby begins to initiate interactions with you, whereas in the past she would merely respond to you. This signals that she is trying out new facial expressions, gestures, and vocalizations, and how your respond to these actions helps her to develop her budding communication abilities.
Babies at this age begin to learn that they have direct effects over things. For example, if you place a rattle in your baby’s hand, he will soon discover that he has the power to make the rattling noise by shaking the rattle in his hand. It seems simple, but it is a powerful realization, and babies who reach this stage soon start experimenting with the world to see what else they can affect.
As a parent, you can facilitate your child’s learning in this stage by giving him the chance to interact with as many different objects as possible. It is also a good idea to talk to your child frequently, without worrying about whether or not he can understand. The more you stimulate the learning parts of his brain, the faster he will pick up on these things.
Learning during months 4 to 7
During this period, babies become even more engaged with their environments. They learn to sit up, and this gives them better access to the objects around them, which allows them to take in lots of new information just by inspecting and feeling things. They also learn about object permanence-that things continue to exist even when out of sight-and you will notice during this stage that your babies often wants things that she cannot see.
The best way to encourage learning during this time is to give your baby a safe place to explore under your supervision. Make a play room that is full of childproof objects and age-appropriate toys that contain a variety of shapes, colors, and textures, and let her play freely.
This is also an important stage in language development. Your child will learn how to speak consonants and will even start putting together sounds that resemble words. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents begin reading to their children every day at around six months, and this is crucial for concept learning and language development.
Learning during months 8 to 12
During the final third of your baby’s first year, she is likely to say her first words, but do not panic if she does not. Kids develop language skills at their own rates, and some do not form words until much later. In any case, it is a good idea to continue talking to your child as much as possible, making an effort to associate words with real-world objects and actions. Continue to provide your child with a range of safe objects and toys so that she can experiment constantly.
In this stage, your child will become more responsive to reading, so it is important to work with a variety of books that introduce increasingly complex concepts. Books with colorful illustrations are best, and it is also good to run your finger along the words as you read them so that your child can begin to understand how reading works. It will still be quite a while before she can learn to read on her own, but you can lay a strong foundation of literacy during this time.