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As a newspaper columnist, Nancy Devlin, Ph.D. has written over 700 articles on subjects related to education and parenting. Welcome to her Classroom!

Talk to Your Baby… Develop His Zest for Wonder

A  recent study found that babies learn the basic sounds  of their native language by the age of six months, long before  they say  their first words.  Dr. Patricia Kuhl of the  University  of Washington  says that mothers who talk “motherese” with its’ high pitch,  exaggerated  intonation  and  clear  pronunciation,  help babies acquire phonetic prototypes which are the building  blocks of language.  Parents should talk to their babies often in  order for them to hear the sounds which help to develop language.

Parents  need to stimulate and interact with  their  babies. They  could  all use a sitter like John Travolta  in  the  movie, “Look Who’s Talking”.  The character played by Travolta took care of the baby for a year.  He did not take the easy way out and put the  baby in the crib and pacify him with a bottle.  Instead,  he talked  to  him constantly.  He took him to see an  airplane  and talked  to  the baby all of the time about what  he  was  seeing. When he drove the car, he talked through all the actions that  he was  taking: first you put the key in, then you push down on  the pedals,  then you turn the steering wheel.  This baby  was  being stimulated to learn all of the time he was with Travolta.

Piaget, the Swiss scholar whose greatest research was on how the  child  develops,  would endorse Travolta’s  method.  In  his studies  of  very young children Piaget found that the  more  new things  the baby sees and hears, the more new things he  will  be interested  in seeing and hearing.  The idea is to keep the  baby interested  as  he develops.  This is the period when  the  child develops a zest for wonder. 

By  the  age  of three, children who  have  been  stimulated establish   a   pattern  of  meeting  the  unknown   with   eager comprehension.   Children who have not been stimulated  begin  to accept  habitual non-comprehension as a way of life and not  even care  about understanding.  This negatively affects their  future as learners.

Studies  conducted  by Catherine Tamis-LeMonda of  New  York

University and Marc Bornstein of the National Institute of  Child Health  and  Human Development found that babies who  received  a great  deal of stimulation had better cognitive abilities  later.  For example, two month old babies encouraged to pay attention  to the  environment were at five months more apt to explore  objects and  vocalize.   These  researchers found that by  the  time  the babies  were six months old, their behavior showed a  pattern  of strengths and weaknesses that remained fairly stable as they grew and developed.

Parents who have their baby in day care situations need to monitor how much stimulation the baby receives during the day.  One mother discovered that her baby was being kept in the crib with a bottle and the television set on most of the day.  While monitoring these programs may be difficult for working parents, it is important that they do so.  A way to begin might be just to ask for a schedule describing their baby’s day.  How much time is he awake?  How much does he sleep?  What does he do when he is awake?  How often is he picked up, cuddled and talked to?  Is there one person who does that or is it random?  Just asking these questions helps.  It lets the day care staff responsible for taking care of the baby know that parents have expectations and what they are.  If at all possible, it also helps for one of the parents to arrive unannounced at the center in order to get a feeling for himself or herself on how the baby spends the day and how much stimulation he is receiving.

More and more studies are showing that the most important years for the future development of the child are from birth to three.  It is not enough just to take care of their physical needs.  They also need to be stimulated, talked to, cuddled and engaged.  These needs are for all babies whether they are at home or in day care.  I encourage parents to devote themselves to these activities with their babies and to monitor what is happening to their babies when they are in the care of others.














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