Your Child’s First and Best Teacher

How much is your child capable of learning before he’s six years old and ready for first grade? What happens to his brain during these preschool years when his body is growing and changing so rapidly?

Is your youngster’s intelligence level fixed for life by the genes she inherits? Or can it be raised by the way you care for her at home, long before she ever meets a teacher in a classroom?

As a parent, what can you do to give your child ample opportunity to grow in intelligence during these irreplaceable early

Years of life?

An explosion of new research into how the brain grows is yielding exciting answers to these questions. The discoveries add up to a larger, happier, and extremely important role for parents in fostering the mental development of their children before school age and to the promise of lifelong higher intelligence for these youngsters.

Most child-care books concentrate on helping parents learn how to raise children who are physically healthy and emotionally well adjusted. They have detailed directions about how to become a competent diaper changer, tantrum stopper, rash identifier, bathroom attendant, and referee between rival siblings. But parents receive almost no help or information or credit for their role as teacher and nurturer of their offspring’s developing intelligence. Much more has been written about what should go into a

baby’s stomach than what should go into her growing mind. More emphasis has been put on teaching a child to use the bathroom than to use her brain.

Today, the evidence is overwhelming that the quantity and quality of learning experiences your baby has—even before he is out of diapers—can greatly influence how well his brain works all the rest of his life. Scientists have made astounding discoveries about how rapidly a baby’s brain grows in the first few years of life—forming trillions of connections every second that will later serve as the pathways of thought. Learning experiences and loving, one-on-one attention strengthen those connections, actually shaping the neurological structure of the brain. But scientists also know conclusively that without ample, appropriate stimulation, those neural connections will wither and die. In fact, the optimum time for many

kinds of learning may already be past by the time a child reaches age six and enters first grade.

These findings provide important information for families trying to balance work and child care. More than half of mothers with young children now work outside the home and fear missing out on some of the best learning opportunities. Fathers increasingly want to play a bigger role in their children’s development but face time pressures of their own. Yet helping enhance a child’s mind often takes no more time than caring for her physical needs, as later chapters of this book show.

The new neurological discoveries have profound implications for national policy as well. Growing numbers of children are at serious risk of not getting proper stimulation that will help their brains grow. Today, nearly 3 million infants and toddlers under age three live in poverty.

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