Early Learning Stimulation Tips by Robert Titzer, Ph.D.
Use Multi-Sensory Learning with Your Child
When your child shows an interest in a particular topic, try to help her learn about that topic using as many sensory systems as possible. If your child is interested in learning about flowers -- let him see, smell, touch, and even hear the gentle sound the flower makes brushing against his ear. This type of learning is usually more interesting for the child. It's also more effective, possibly because extra synapses are formed among the various areas of the brain receiving the sensory information.
Try to incorporate multi-sensory learning for your child whenever you can -- even when your child is learning a primarily cognitive task. For instance, our reading video uses this type of learning by allowing your child opportunities to see the words, hear the words, perform some physical action related to many of the words, and see and hear images representing the meaning of those words. This type of learning is very appropriate for young learners who are still discovering how their sensory systems work. It may also reach children who may be primarily visual learners, auditory learners, or kinesthetic (movement) learners.
Respond to Your Baby
An important skill for parents is the ability to respond to the interests of their infant. Carefully observe and listen to your baby, then respond to her/his interests. For example, if your baby is looking at her toes do not talk with your child about whatever you happen to be interested in at that moment. Instead, follow the attention of your infant and talk with her about the people and objects that she sees.
Responding to your child's visual attention will help him understand the world easier because he will simultaneously have multi-sensory information. The baby looking at her toes could be told, "These are your toes." This means the infant would simultaneously have visual (seeing her toes), auditory (listening to you say "these are your toes"), and haptic (feeling you touch her toes) information. This helps a young baby develop a very elaborate idea of "toes".
These types of responsiveness activities may also increase his IQ. Several studies have found a positive correlation between parents' responsiveness and their children's IQs. Additionally, parents and their babies may be happier when they are on the same page.
Cause & Effect
Infants younger than 4 months of age do not have many opportunities to control their environment besides crying for food or other needs. You can give your infant an opportunity to make a change in the environment by placing your baby in a crib with a mobile made of soft materials hanging above her. Instead of having the mobile move continuously, connect the mobile to the infant's ankle with ribbon. This will enable your baby to control the mobile by kicking. When your baby kicks the mobile will move.
In numerous studies, infants have learned the contingency between their kicks and the mobile's movement. Three-month-old infants learn to do this in a few minutes. Babies often smile and giggle while doing this task -- possibly because they enjoy having some control over their environment. I have observed babies as young as six weeks enjoying this task and learning a little about cause and effect.
This task is recommended for infants between the ages of 6 weeks and 4 months.
IMPORTANT! Make sure that an adult observes the infant at all times during this exercise so the baby does not get the ribbon tangled around his body. Check to ensure the mobile is secure before connecting the mobile to your baby.
A fundamental building block for intelligence is the ability to categorize. You can stimulate your child by grouping animals or objects that are similar in some manner. For instance, your child's toys could be grouped by color, size, shape, material, or function. Young children generally enjoy sorting activities.
Categorizing activities can easily be added to your daily routine. For instance, you can show and describe how you sort laundry to your young infant. Older infants and toddlers would probably enjoy helping you sort the laundry. Simply show and tell your young baby that, "This is a sock and this is a sock. This is not a sock."
Your baby should enjoy the activity because she/he will be able to see you sort the clothing, hear your voice, touch the soft clothing, and smell the clean clothes. These types of multi-sensory activities help your child learn.
Improving Your Infant's Spatial Reasoning Abilities #1
Studies have shown that infants who self-locomote using a walker improve their spatial abilities. This improvement may be a result of infants' increased attention to objects in their environment. Infants probably pay more attention to the objects when they are self-locomoting than when they are carried by an adult. Pediatricians recommend that parents not use walkers for safety reasons, however in safe conditions walkers can help improve infants' spatial abilities..
Play classical music to your infant or toddler on a regular basis. In a controlled study, young children who listened to classical music outperformed those who had not listened to classical music.
Improving Your Toddler's Spatial Reasoning Abilities #2
Reading simple maps can improve your toddler's spatial reasoning abilities. Try drawing a map of a room in your house. Hide an object somewhere in the room, then point out on the map where the object is hidden. After your child has mastered this type of map, expand the map to include your entire house or yard. Young children enjoy this type of interactive activity.
Make a maze on the floor for your toddler to walk through. There is only one rule for this fun activity -- do not step over the lines. Use strips of paper or household materials to make your lines. Start with simple mazes, then make them more complex. Later, your child may design a maze for you to navigate.
Learning a Second Language
Why Teach Your Baby or Toddler a Second Language?
It is easier for a young child to learn a second language than it is for adults. A recent study found that children who learned a second language after the age of 11 had two distinct areas of the brain for understanding language -- one for their native language and one for their second language. On the other hand, children who learned a second language before the age of four had one large area of the brain which was active for both languages. This suggests that children who learn language skills in their first several years of life are able to develop brains that are more efficient than children who learn those skills later in life.
How Can You Teach Your Child a Second Language?
Here are a few methods that may work for your family:
- If you or your partner is fluent in another language, one of you could speak primarily one language to your child while the other speaks another language.
- Hire a babysitter who is fluent in another language or find a day care provider who speaks another language.
- Form a social group with other families and invite a teacher (who is fluent with a native accent) to teach the children and adults using children's books and natural dialogue situations.
- Use videos, books, computer software, and/or audio tapes to expose your child to other languages.
- Travel to areas (across town or around the world) where other languages are spoken and limit your use of English.
Respond to Your Infant's Sounds
When an infant makes a particular sound for the first time the connection in the brain that was made (allowing that sound to occur) probably happened randomly. If the parent responds excitedly to the baby's new sound and repeats the sound to the baby, then the connection to make that sound will have some value to the infant and it will likely be strengthened. On the other hand, if the infant makes a new sound and no one responds -- the baby will be less likely to repeat that sound.
The care-giver's response to the baby's sounds are important. Not only does the infant probably feel more attached to care-givers who respond to their sounds, but they only can learn to make more sounds when people respond to them. Later, the infants will make these sounds intentionally and eventually these sounds will turn in to words.
Make Learning Videos for Your Child
Parents can make learning videos for their infants and toddlers. Use a format similar to the one used in the "Your Baby Can Read!" video. You may want to include some of the same words used in the "Your Baby Can Read!" video as well as some new words. Be sure to include your family in the video. This will attract your child's attention and allow her or him to see you (even when you are away). You may want to include your child's name and the words 'mommy' and 'daddy' in your video.
Play matching games with your infant or toddler
Show your infant one item, for example a tennis ball. Next, show your baby several objects (another tennis ball, a cup, or other safe items around the house) and ask your child to find the one that matches the first object. You can modify this game slightly to help your child learn about categories. You could begin by showing your child a tennis ball, then have them decide which of the other objects are similar. Don't include an item that matches exactly. Instead, you may want to include a beach ball as well as objects that are not as similar. Talk with your child throughout the game and describe how the objects are the same or different. These fun games help the child learn more about object properties (such as color, material, function, shape, etc.) and they give you many opportunities to verbalize how objects are similar and different from other objects.
Play Physical Games with Balls
Depending on your child's abilities, she/he will probably enjoy these activities with balls. It is very important to make sure the child is successful and enjoys the games. Use balls that are soft so the child will not develop a fear of balls.
- Roll balls back and forth while you and your child are seated on the floor (use large soft balls for beginners and a variety of different balls for children with experience).
- Roll balls down inclines for the child to catch (adjust your incline so the child will be able to catch most of the balls -- use longer inclines that are not steep for beginners).
- Throw soft balls into baskets. Make up a game to play with your child.
- Tap balloons up with your child (be sure to clear a large area of all obstacles because toddlers often lose their balance while playing this game).
- Toss soft balls into your child's hands. Help your child by having her spread her fingers and cup her hands.
- Make up new games that will help your child develop coordination and confidence.
Play and Explore from Different Postures
Allow your infant to play while in different postures and locations. Make soft, clean, safe areas for the baby to play while on her stomach, back, and seated. For added variety, set up these play spaces in different locations inside and outside. Present your baby with opportunities to explore while in each of these postures. Babies may practice lifting their heads or rolling over while on their stomachs. While on their backs, infants may play with activity gyms, practice rolling, or look at objects. It may be easier for infants to explore toys while seated in a bouncer.
Infants generally prefer to look or play with novel objects so try providing novel objects to your baby. You may find many stimulating household items that your baby will enjoy exploring, such as containers, lids, etc. Always ensure that the objects are safe for your infant.
Do Other Stimulating Activities With Your Child to Increase the Probability of Early Reading
- Read books to your child as part of your daily routine and point to the words as you say them.
- Respond to your baby's actions. For instance, if your infant makes a new sound, reward her by repeating the sound and smiling at her.
- Talk to your baby about the people and objects he is looking at. Play imitation games with your baby.
- Do activities in front of a mirror so your infant can see herself. Play classical music on a regular basis.
- Allow your baby to use as many sensory modalities (sight, sound, touch, etc.) as possible while playing - this helps your infant learn, and it is fun!
- Gently massage your baby
- Print some of your child's favorite words from the video in large, lowercase letters.
- Make up fun word games to play with your child.
- Help your child learn to categorize animals, vehicles, laundry, and other objects of interest to her.
- Categorize the same objects several different ways (e.g., by size, color, material, function, shape, number of legs/wheels, etc.).
- Play pattern games with your child. (Show him a pattern: red cup, blue cup, red cup, blue cup, red cup, and so on.
- Eventually he will be able to figure out more complicated patterns.)
- Count to your child while you set the table or do other daily activities.
Show your child other "Your Baby Can Read!" videos or make your own learning videos. Infants need to learn hundreds of words before they will be able to pick up the pattern of the written language. Toddlers learn the pattern of the spoken language very easily. For instance, they learn to add an "s" on words to make them plural. They may also learn the pattern of the written language if they recognize enough individual words. If a child learns to read the word "hat" and "sat" and "ball" and "bear," she may figure out the word "bat." In other words, she may be able to figure out phonics on her own. Again, children must learn hundreds of individual words before they will be able to figure out the pattern of written language.
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