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The Earlier Education Begins, the Better

Research shows the period when a child is five months to five years of age is a very critical time for early learning

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Children begin formal education around the age of five, however there is something to be said for starting your child on the right path well-before this.

Research shows the period when a child is five months to five years of age is a very critical time for early learning. Babies' and young children's brains are very malleable and capable of absorbing large amounts of information during this stage, providing a window of opportunity which, if maximized, may produce positive long-term results.

Although there are many theories and methods developed on the subject of early childhood education, most of them focus and agree on a few key ingredients for success: affection, nutrition, repetition and stimulation.

Affection greatly affects the learning and development of children; a child is more likely to remember and learn if she is happy and feels loved. The importance of affection is summarized by the following experts:

"Loving interactions with children form the firm basis of all human growth." (Susan Ludington-Hoe, professor of pediatric nursing and author of How To Have A Smarter Baby)

"Love creates the mind." (Makoto Shichida, professor of education and founder of the Shichida Education Institute, which provides right-brain training to infants and children)

"Children have hidden wonderful potentials. What draws them out are the parents' love and trust towards their children." (Shimayo Shichida, managing director of the Shichida Education Institute)

"Intellectual skills, like forming ideas, solving problems, thinking logically, using symbols, and developing grammar are all linked to a child's emotional growth." (Linda Acredolo and Susan Goodwyn, psychologists, child development experts and authors of Baby Minds and Baby Signs)

Nutrition also plays an important role in brain development, even from the moment of conception. Here, Lise Eliot, neurobiologist and author of What's Going On In There? explains its significance:

  • Between four months prenatal and two years after birth, your baby's brain is highly sensitive to the quantity and quality of nutrients he consumes.
  • Malnourished children have smaller brains, fewer neurons and synapses, shorter dendrites and less myelin.
  • Brain-building foods include protein, dairy products, fresh fruit and vegetables, and vitamin-fortified milk and grains.
  • A deficiency in iron can cause anemia, with too few red blood cells carrying oxygen to the brain. Prolonged anemia at any time in infancy can stunt cognitive development.
  • Of the 45 nutrients essential for body growth, 38 are essential for neurological development.
  • Children reared on breast milk score up to eight points higher on IQ tests at the age of eight.

There's a reason children drive us crazy with their requests to do or hear the same thing over and over: children learn best through repetition. These experts explain:

"You should repeat a stimulus until habituation occurs; then stop." (Susan Ludington-Hoe)

"A child masters an activity by repeating it; at the same time, she is programming and strengthening the neural pathways in her brain. Allow – and even encourage – your child to repeat activities if they involve new skills she is developing." (Winifred Conkling, author of Smart-Wiring Your Baby's Brain)

"Going over the story [in a book] more than once enables a child to learn new vocabulary items well enough to use them in answer to questions." (Linda Acredolo and Susan Goodwyn)

As a parent, giving your child the right stimulation and helping them realize their intellectual potential is critical during early childhood, at the time when they find pure enjoyment in learning.

Here's what the experts have to say:

"The best time to tap into your baby's innate abilities, the capacities that all children are born with, is when his brain cells are rapidly growing and making new connections." (Makoto Shichida)

"Never forget that when you are giving a child visual, auditory, and tactile stimulation with increased frequency, intensity and duration that you are actually physically growing his brain." (Glenn Dorman, founder of the Institutes for the Achievement of Human Potential)

"Improve your child's ability to learn by using more than one of the five senses. When we use different senses we create multiple encoding, which increases the number of sites where information is stored." (Winifred Conkling)

"There is, however, a limit to how much stimulation a young child should have. Too many toys, activities and outings can create confusion and actually work to a child's detriment, hampering his ability to focus. Children are usually pretty good at telling us when they are bored but not when they are over-stimulated. Their behavior is often the only sign." (Lise Eliot)

Together, these four act as the foundation for any teaching program that can be personalized for each family and each baby. Parents should speak, sing and play music to their children from birth and may even want to consider teaching their baby sign language to improve communication and reduce frustration.

When the child reaches four months of age, it is possible to teach them both reading and math, and even start encouraging physical development, altogether aiding in brain development resulting in intelligence.

—Madeleine Fitzpatrick is the editor of BrillBaby.com

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