How to enrich your child’s intelligence from birth
Every country’s educational priorities are completely back to front. Researchers have proven beyond doubt that you develop around 50 percent of your ability to learn in the first four years of life. And you develop another 30 percent of that ability before you turn eight. After age 10, the neural branches, which haven’t been laid, will die off.
This does not mean that you absorb 50 percent of your knowledge or 50 percent of your wisdom or 50 percent of your intelligence by your fourth birthday. It simply means that in those first few years, you form the main learning pathways in your brain. Everything else you learn in life will be built on that base. You also take in a fantastic amount of information in those early years, and all later learning will grow from that core.
Yet nearly every country spends well under 10 percent of its educational budget on the years where 50 percent of development takes place.
Says British psychologist Tony Buzan: “At the moment a child is born it’s already really brilliant. It picks up language, much better than a doctor of philosophy in any subject, in only two years. And it is a master at it by three or four”.
Buzan says every child born, unless it has severe brain damage, is a budding genius. He demonstrates that early built-in urge to learn with a piece of paper. “Imagine I am now a three-month-old baby”, he smiles. “You’ve given me this piece of paper. You know it’s not going to last long. Now do I do it like this? (He mimes a small child looking passively at the paper and then ignoring it.) Or do I do it like this?” (He then tries to tear the paper, crumple it, rattle it, and even stuff it in his mouth.) “It’s obviously the second way. And what that little baby was doing was being a little Isaac Newton – the perfect scientist. What kind of musical instrument can I make from this material (shaking it)? What is the sociological, economic value of this material (putting it in his mouth)? Anybody want some (offering it around)? What is the engineering, mechanical, tensile strength of the material (pulling it apart)? Stick it in the chemical laboratory (chewing it)? Check the musical instrument – and on to the next experiment. Now the baby is using all of its brain. Logic? Yes. Analysis? Yes. Rhythm? Yes. Everything? Yes.”
Scientists have tested this infant ability in many ways. In 1964, Benjamin S. Bloom, Professor of Education at the University of Chicago, published a summary of major research findings. In it, he studied five main human characteristics between birth and age 17 and 18: height, general learning ability, school achievement, aggressiveness in males and dependence in females.
Overwhelmingly, he found that development soared in the first few years – then tapered off. Generally it reached its halfway point before the fifth birthday. He found boys reached 54 percent of their maximum height by their third birthday, another 32 per cent between three and 12, and the last 14 percent by their 18th birthday.
He also concluded that among both girls and boys, about 50 percent of intelligence, as measured in tests at 17, took place between conception and age four, about 30 percent between four and eight, and the final 20 percent between the ages of eight and 17. Even researchers who question the validity of standardized intelligence tests would probably endorse this overall finding-so long as the words learning ability are substituted for intelligence.
Bloom also analyzed vocabulary, reading comprehension and general school achievement between birth and age 18. This convinced him that 33 percent of an 18-year-old’s academic skills are achieved by age six, 42 percent between six and 13 and 25 percent between 13 and 18.
Since Bloom’s study, much other research has shown, however, that several differences between male and female brains do show up early in life.
The corpus callosum in baby girls, for instance is generally thicker than in boys. This helps most girls to read earlier than boys. Generally girls speak earlier and learn languages more quickly. Males seem to have better distance vision and depth perception than females, making them more adept at certain sports.
Two of the most thorough analyses since Bloom’s have been done in the South Island of New Zealand. The first is through the Otago University School of Medicine in Dunedin, a city of around 100,000 people. In 1972, 1,661 babies were born in Dunedin. Their progress has been checked regularly ever since. And more than 1,000 of them are still being surveyed.
Research director Dr. Phil Silva says that the survey underlines the vital importance of the first few years of life. “That doesn’t mean that the other years are unimportant, but our research shows that children who have a slow start during the first three years are likely to experience problems right through childhood and into adolescence.”
He says it’s also vital to identify any special problems in the first three years, such as hearing or eyesight defects, “because if we don’t tell them at the early stages then it’s likely that they are going to experience long-lasting problems throughout their lives”.
The other survey had checked the progress of 1,206 infants born in the city of Christchurch in 1977. One of its key findings: between 15 and 20 percent of youngsters fall behind because they don’t get the necessary early-childhood health-checks and developmental experience.
Buzan agrees. “Make sure that the child, from as early as possible, gets as much exercise as s/he wants, with as much of a free body as possible: hands free, feet free, able to crawl a lot, climb a lot. Allow it to make its own mistakes so that it learns by its own trial and error”.
There are six main pathways into the brain, the five senses of sight, hearing, touch, taste and smell and the sixth step of what we do physically. Youngsters obviously learn through all the senses. Every day is a learning experience. They love to experiment, to create, to find out how things work. Challenges are there to be accepted. Adults to be imitated.
Most important, a child learns by doing. He learns to crawl by crawling. He learns to walk by walking. To talk to talking. And each time he does so, he either lays down new pathways in the brain – if his experience is new – or he builds on and expands existing pathways – if he is repeating the experience.
Youngsters are their own best educators, parents their best first teachers. And our homes, beaches, forests, playgrounds, adventure areas and the whole wide world our main educational resources – as long as children are encouraged to explore them safely through all their senses.
Researchers stress the need for positive sse encouragement. Says British accelerated learning pioneer Colin Rose: “It’s true throughout life that if you think you are a poor learner, you’ll probably be a poor learner”. But the real question is how that thought pattern is programmed. American research has shown that most children, from a very early age, receive at least six negative comments to everyone of positive encouragement. Comments like “Don’t do that” or “You didn’t do that very well,” are where the problem starts.
Research has also established beyond doubt the importance of every child growing in an enriched environment.
Berkeley scientists in California have been experimenting for many years with rats – and comparing their brain growth with humans. “Very simply,” says Professor Marian Diamond, “we’ve found with our rats that all the nerve cells in the key outer layers of the brain are present at birth. At birth the interconnecting dendrites start to grow. For the first month the growth is prolific. Then it starts to go down.
“If we put the rats in enriched environments, we can keep the dendrite growth up. But if we put them in impoverished environments, then dendrite growth goes down fast”.
“In enrichment cages, rats live together and have access to toys. They have ladders, wheels and other playthings. They can climb, explore and interact with their toys. Then we compare them with rats in impoverished environments: one rat to a cage, no toys, no interaction. Again very simply: we’ve found that the rat brain cells increase in size in the enriched environment – and the number of dendrites increases dramatically. In the impoverished environment, the opposite.”
The rats then take an “intelligence test”: they’re put in a maze, and left to find food in another part of the maze. The “enriched” rats do so easily. The others don’t.
Obviously, scientists can’t cut up human brains to test the impact of early stimulation. But they can check with radioactive glucose. “And these checks,” says Diamond, “show that the vital glucose uptake is extremely rapid for the first two years of life – provided the child has a good diet and adequate stimulation. It continues rapidly until five years. It continues very slowly from five to ten. By about ten years of age, brain-growth has reached its peak – although the good news is this: the human brain can keep on growing dendrites till the end of life, so long as it is being stimulated. Very simply, the human brain cell, like the rat’s, is designed to receive stimulation – and to grow from it.”
That doesn’t mean turning an infant’s home into a formal school classroom. The reverse, in fact: infants learn by play and exploration. It’s the formal classroom that needs redesigning.
“We used to think that play and education were opposite things,” say Jean Marzollo and Janice Lloyd in their excellent book Learning Through Play. “Now we know better. Educational experts and early childhood specialists have discovered that play is learning, and even more, that play is one of the most effective kinds of learning.”
The key: turning play into learning experiences – and making sure that most learning is fun.
In fact, activities that good parents take for granted provide some of the best early learning. But we don’t mean “academic” studies. Scientists have proved, for instance, that regularly rocking a baby can help greatly in promoting brain growth. It stimulates what they call the vestibular system. This is a nerve-system centered in the brain stem and linked very closely with the cerebellum and a baby’s inner-ear mechanism, which also plays a vital part in developing balance and coordination. Scientists say this is one of the first parts of the brain to begin to function in the womb – as early as 16 weeks after conception.
“It is this early maturity that makes the vestibular system so important to early brain development,” says Richard M. Restak, M.D., author of The Brain: The Last Frontier and The Infant Mind. “The fetus floating in its amniotic fluid registers its earliest perceptions via the activity of its vestibular system. In recent years evidence has accumulated that the vestibular system is crucial for normal brain development. Infants who are given periodic vestibular stimulation, by rocking, gain weight faster, develop vision and hearing earlier, and demonstrate distinct sleep cycles at a younger age.”
Dr. Ruth Rice, of Texas, has shown in controlled tests that even 15 minutes of rocking, rubbing, rolling and stroking a premature baby four times a day will greatly help its ability to coordinate movements and therefore to learn.
And Dr. Lyelle Palmer, Professor of Education at Winona State University in Minnesota, has completed extensive studies at kindergarten level to demonstrate the vital importance of such simple stimulation for five-year-old. Every day youngsters have attended a gymnasium as a key part of early schooling. There they are encouraged to carry out a simple series of routines: spinning, rope jumping, balancing, somersaulting, rolling and walking on balance beams. In the playground, they are encouraged to swing on low “jungle gyms”, climb, skate, perform somersaults and flips. And in classrooms they play with a wide range of games, also designed to stimulate their sense of sight, hearing and touch. All activities are designed to increase in skill-level during the year, and thus help stimulate ever-increasing brain development.
At the end of each year, many of the children undergo the Metropolitan Readiness Test to measure whether they’ve developed enough to start first-grade schooling. Nearly all have passed the tests in the top ten percent for the state – and most have been in the top five percent. Nearly all of them come from working-class backgrounds.
Palmer, a former president of the Society for Accelerative Learning and Teaching, emphasizes that the children are not simply walking, running and skipping – the normal “motor” activities. “The stimulation activities we recommend,” he says, “are specifically designed to activate the areas of the brain we know will promote their sense of sight, touch and hearing – as well as their ability to take in knowledge.”
Most parents, for instance, seem to learn instinctively that infants love to be held firmly by their hands and spun around like a helicopter blade. Palmer’s Minneapolis public school research at New Vision School has shown that such activities result in important brain growth. And the greater the intensity of the activity the greater you see the results of the brain-growth in areas that are receptive to further learning.
The overall result is a big gain in competence and self-confidence, increased attention, faster responses and the ability to tackle learning activities of increasing complexity.
Palmer stresses that the activities are not what many schools would regard as “academic.” But any classroom visit shows the youngsters “exploding” into true learning. Early reading is taught with word-card games. The youngsters get an early introduction to mathematics by playing with dominoes and big cards with dots instead of numbers. And they play games to develop pre-writing skills.
Does it help “academic development”? You bet! In another study of at-risk youngsters who were not doing well at school, Palmer’s methods produced dramatic gains in reading ability. The children of the experimental group read three to ten times faster than the control group.
Two Swedish vestibular-stimulation experts, Mats and Irene Niklasson, have also achieved great results using techniques similar to Palmer. At their Vistabularis organization, they’ve found that slow spinning and slow movement is ideal for many children, particularly those diagnosed as having severe learning problems. Says Mats Niklasson: “Most learning problems, I found, relate to lack of balance and difficulty with the reflexes.” Through spinning and other motor activities, the Niklassons “rewire the brain”.
All these point out to the very reason for a need to provide accelerated learning ambiance at home as well as school. Huge potentials of our children are getting lost because of our ignorance of how to develop our children’s potentials. Unfortunately, the media tells us which cars to buy, which mobiles to purchase, which toothpaste or soft drinks to choose from; but they are not bringing about an awareness in the minds of our young parents, “How to develop their young child or how to shape their mind?”
In our ancient India, this concept of ‘Early Child Development’ in the Gurukul learning system, was very prevalent. For example, Abhimanyu, started learning chakravyu from mother’s womb. Bhishma pitamaha of Mahabharat, in early childhood, as Devabrata, was sent by mother Ganga and father Shantanoo to the God’s, Goddesses and Rishis, to become not only an excellent warrior, but a person with intense character. Rama, Lakshman, Bharat and Shatrunghana, similarly, were sent to Rishi Vashista ashram at a very early age. Because of which by the age of four (4) they had become Balabrahmagyani and by the age of seven (7), Rama killed Taraka Rakshashi. Luv and Kush, who defeated, at a very young age, all the warriors including brothers of Rama; were also taught from the babyhood and from mother’s womb.
We need to, as young parents, of our future generation, become wise, with the thoughts of the ancient Vedantic wisdom as well as with the latest of the Western Science. Today’s child is the ‘father’ of tomorrow’s man?
Should you have any questions or difficulty in understanding or should you require clarity in creating activities for your child; you are welcome for a free session from the President and from the special educational needs (SEN) specialists of Victorious Kidss Educares, a school with a difference, at Kharadi, Pune. Contact Tel. No.: 020-66355466 / 93 Mobile Nos.: 9011040000 / 9822009578.