Eager to Learn

Babies are ready to make contact from the moment of birth. It’s this loving contact between parents and family that helps a baby’s brain to grow. These relationships result in healthy emotions and a good foundation for learning. It’s all part of what’s called developing literacy; the ability to read, write, speak, and to listen well.

As new parents, you may be saying to yourself, “Read, write? My baby’s too young for that. This information is not for me.” But, that’s not true. This is for you even if you have a newborn. Because like learning to walk, learning to read and write is also a process that a baby learns step by step.

And that learning begins at birth. Science has shown that a child’s brain grows most rapidly in the first few years of life. During pregnancy, your baby’s brain will grow at an unbelievable rate before he is born. Your baby is born with a network of more than 100 billion nerve cells, growing and connecting with other cells…cells that control all his thinking…movement…and senses. From the moment your baby is born, his brain is incredibly active. His brain is growing minute by minute. Over 90% of brain growth happens in the first three years.

The way your baby’s brain grows is through experience. Important learning takes place from the earliest weeks and months as your baby experiences sound, touch, smells and movement.

A big part of that learning…is learning about language. Babies’ brains are “wired” to learn. And how they learn to speak is a complex process that develops over years. At first, babies communicate without words – by crying, cooing, babbling and laughing – and they understand what you’re communicating, too.

When you respond to their crying with hugs and soothing words, they know that you care for them. This early learning is based on emotion.

And the closer an emotional bond babies have with their parents, grandparents and childcare providers – the better they’ll be at learning everything.

Even if a baby doesn’t understand the words you use, she does understand the emotion behind the words. When you talk to your new baby, she’s also beginning to learn something more. Every language on earth has its own unique sounds and rhythms. When you talk, your child starts to learn these. She also starts to learn patterns of communication. Like how we take turns when we speak to each other. This back and forth turn-taking is one of the basics of human speech.

The more you talk to your baby, the quicker her’ll learn. The next stage happens at around five or six months when babies start to imitate the sounds of speech as they carry on conversations only they can understand.

If English is not your first language, speak your native language to your baby. It’s an important part of her culture. If you are also fluent in English, you may want to teach your baby both languages.

It is never too early to start reading to your baby. By the time your baby is five or six months old, reading to your baby becomes even more fun. Babies even begin to develop the skills they’ll need for writing at these early ages. They start to ready use their hands at about three months. And, by giving them rattles, plastic cups, or safe, simple toys you can help them begin to build their strength and coordination.

Singing is a wonderful way for babies to learn about language. The rhymes and small differences in the sounds of words teach them a lot – even from the earliest months.

—- from First5 Advice for New Parents

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