Monday, January 28, 2013

Baby's Brain: Notes for a developing mind

During grad school I had a theory of learning class with Dr. Jill Stamm, and it really made me regretful that I hadn't decided to major in some sort of neuroscience field.  However, it was during my last semester finishing my masters in math education, and I wasn't about to take any more classes.  But this class definitely prepared me not really for teaching middle schoolers math, but for raising my own children.  Dr. Stamm's focus is on how early development (0-3 years) affects children's brain growth, and I found her class fascinating.  But, a bit frustrating, since I know that by the time kids get to my class in school, so much of their brain is already pre-wired for learning and there's not a ton I can do about it.

The fact that so much of a kid's life is determined by his first 3 years is a little scary, especially since Theo's third birthday is approaching.  I read Stamm's "Bright from the Start" cover to cover when Theo was born, and tried really hard to choose Theo's play, activities, and toys based on the suggestions within.  And though he was a bit slow to talk, I think he has definitely taken off and his brain seems to be a little sponge for learning.

With Eli, I realized I haven't been as careful and purposeful.  I know we have a lot of the "right" toys and activities around here, but am not always using them.  I decided to go ahead and give myself a refresher course, and reorganize my own "baby brain box" (one that is a lot cheaper than the one Stamm's institute sells here).

Below are some of the things most important remembrances for 0-6 month olds:  (*Are ones I need to place a special focus on.*)

Attention and Communication Ideas:
Speak in "parentese" often.
Encourage tracking by bringing a toy across his field of vision.*
Talk during the day, labeling and explaining everything.
Place mobiles (or photos*) 10-12 inches from face.

*Tummy Time*  I've been guilty of holding this baby too much, propping him up beside me, or having him sit in the Bumbo while playing beside Theo.  I was reminded that the pre-crawling motions they practice during tummy time (right arm, left knee-left arm, right knee) is helpful in connecting the left and right hemispheres for the baby's brain.  Skipping the crawling stage doesn't allow for this connection to be built (though other games and activities can help with this if your baby just doesn't want to crawl). 

Getting Vision System Online:
Face imitation games.
Reading books.
Puppet play.
Looking in a mirror (this one is easy since his changing table is beside our full-size mirror.  Every changing experience includes some mirror play.)
Black-and-white cards (high contrast colors and patterns)

Bonding Ideas:
Hold baby as much as possible (wear baby versus carrying in the car seat).
Respond to cries (he doesn't fuss much, so this is not a problem.  But, it also means he isn't asking for attention as much so he may not get as much attention since he is also competing with his brother for it.)
Exploring different "touches" *(I'm planning to get out some of the old board books that have different textures).
"I'm Gonna Getcha" (Stamm recommends this starting at 6 months, but Eli already loves it.  When I nuzzle his neck he will actually giggle.)

Communication Ideas:
Music, rhymes and finger play.
My mother-in-law seems to have an endless supply of rhymes, songs, and finger-play ideas.  I tend to always fall back on just a few favorites, so hopefully writing them all down here will remind me to use them:
Pat-a-Cake (Theo will do this with Eli)
This Little Piggy
The Itsy Bitsy Spider
Twinkle, Twinkle (again, one Theo can be in charge of)
Head and Shoulders, Knees and Toes
The Wheels on the Bus
Silly Songs (spontaneously made up, I'm pretty good at these, and when I'm singing to Eli Theo will pretty much stop playing and come listen, and ask me to sing them again)

With these ideas in mind, Eli's brain box includes the following:

Books:  "Fluffy Chick" (textures), Hickory, Dickory, Dock (great version of rhymes with illustrations to discuss), "Colors", "Guess Who" (peekaboo flap book), "Guess How Much I Love You," "On the Night You Were Born" and "In My Tree" (bonding books),  and "Black on White" as well as the b/w art cards for visual stimulation.  The box also includes: a cow rattle, cow mirror, egg shaker, and cow puppet (missing from pic) .  Lastly, a "Splash" CD.  I bought plenty of music for Theo when he was young, but our favorites have always included these free CDs from our church.  They send a new one every 12 months for the next age range and they are fun songs with Christian themes. 

My goal is to work through most of the items in this box within a day (depending on baby's attention span).  But most importantly, the "box" needs to include my own eyes and voice.  I think direct eye-to-eye contact, and a stream of words, songs, or assurances coming from a mother's mouth, are the most important things in raising a happy, confident baby. 

Looks like he likes his box already!

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