A recent study found that babies learn the basic sounds of their native language by the age of six months, long before they say their first words. Dr. Patricia Kuhl of the University of Washington says that mothers who talk “motherese” with its’ high pitch, exaggerated intonation and clear pronunciation, help babies acquire phonetic prototypes which are the building blocks of language. Parents should talk to their babies often in order for them to hear the sounds which help to develop language.
Parents need to stimulate and interact with their babies. They could all use a sitter like John Travolta in the movie, “Look Who’s Talking”. The character played by Travolta took care of the baby for a year. He did not take the easy way out and put the baby in the crib and pacify him with a bottle. Instead, he talked to him constantly. He took him to see an airplane and talked to the baby all of the time about what he was seeing. When he drove the car, he talked through all the actions that he was taking: first you put the key in, then you push down on the pedals, then you turn the steering wheel. This baby was being stimulated to learn all of the time he was with Travolta.
Piaget, the Swiss scholar whose greatest research was on how the child develops, would endorse Travolta’s method. In his studies of very young children Piaget found that the more new things the baby sees and hears, the more new things he will be interested in seeing and hearing. The idea is to keep the baby interested as he develops. This is the period when the child develops a zest for wonder.
By the age of three, children who have been stimulated establish a pattern of meeting the unknown with eager comprehension. Children who have not been stimulated begin to accept habitual non-comprehension as a way of life and not even care about understanding. This negatively affects their future as learners.
Studies conducted by Catherine Tamis-LeMonda of New York
University and Marc Bornstein of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development found that babies who received a great deal of stimulation had better cognitive abilities later. For example, two month old babies encouraged to pay attention to the environment were at five months more apt to explore objects and vocalize. These researchers found that by the time the babies were six months old, their behavior showed a pattern of strengths and weaknesses that remained fairly stable as they grew and developed.
Parents who have their baby in day care situations need to monitor how much stimulation the baby receives during the day. One mother discovered that her baby was being kept in the crib with a bottle and the television set on most of the day. While monitoring these programs may be difficult for working parents, it is important that they do so. A way to begin might be just to ask for a schedule describing their baby’s day. How much time is he awake? How much does he sleep? What does he do when he is awake? How often is he picked up, cuddled and talked to? Is there one person who does that or is it random? Just asking these questions helps. It lets the day care staff responsible for taking care of the baby know that parents have expectations and what they are. If at all possible, it also helps for one of the parents to arrive unannounced at the center in order to get a feeling for himself or herself on how the baby spends the day and how much stimulation he is receiving.
More and more studies are showing that the most important years for the future development of the child are from birth to three. It is not enough just to take care of their physical needs. They also need to be stimulated, talked to, cuddled and engaged. These needs are for all babies whether they are at home or in day care. I encourage parents to devote themselves to these activities with their babies and to monitor what is happening to their babies when they are in the care of others.