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Experience Is The Best Teacher

Dr. Patricia Nan Anderson

Development & Learning

It’s natural to wonder what you can do to help your baby learn and grow. We hear so much about early brain development and how important the first few years of life are. How can you know that you’re doing the right things? Is there something important you should be sure not to leave out?

When you stop to consider how much a child learns in the first year of life – everything from recognizing his parents’ faces to learning to walk – it should be obvious that this is not the time to think about “teaching.” Babies learn what they need to know through experience and although Mom and Dad help with those experiences, babies do most of the learning themselves. Here’s what babies need to develop their brains.

  1. Love and care. In order for babies to learn, they must feel safe and secure. They must believe that people love them and can be counted on to be there when they’re needed. Stress hormones get in the way of brain development, so give your baby a stress-free life, as much as you can.
  2. People to talk with. Your baby is in love with your smiling face and pleasant voice. Talk with your baby a lot and listen when he makes noises back. Carry on little conversations throughout the day. Babies who hear a lot of talking learn to talk sooner and better.
  3. Things to look at, listen to, smell, taste and feel. Even when your baby is just lying on her back, she is learning about the world. Make sure there are interesting things to touch and look at and play music or use musical toys. Babies learn with their senses.
  4. A change of scene now and then. Move your baby around the house with you and don’t keep him in one room all day. Put him near a window some time and bring him into the kitchen when you cook. Keep him safe, of course, but let him experience a variety of locations.
  5. Opportunities to stretch, kick, reach, and grab. Babies are learning what their bodies can do and they need a chance to try out different movements. Be sure that your child doesn’t spend too much time in any one position – in a car seat, on her back on the floor, in a bouncy seat – but make sure she gets plenty of changes to wiggle and squirm.
  6. Interesting objects to handle and explore. When babies play with toys they learn what the toys can do but they also learn how to control their hands and fingers and how to bring things to their mouths to taste. You don’t need fancy toys but you do need several safe objects that have different textures and colors for your child to play with.
  7. Freedom to try new things. As your baby gets older, he’ll want to investigate new places and try out new abilities. Be sure to allow this sort of exploration by carefully supervising him and making sure your home is baby-safe. Babies need to roll over, crawl and pull themselves up. Make sure your baby has freedom to do these things.
  8. Encouragement and support. Remember to interact with your baby and let her know how proud you are of her accomplishments. Encourage her to try new things but don’t push. Let her learn at her own speed but with opportunities you provide.

We parents think of learning as something that happens at school so when we imagine our babies learning, we sometimes forget that babies don’t need school skills. They need baby skills. Baby skills include learning to use their bodies, learning what happens when they play with objects, and learning how things look and sound. Baby skills depend on your loving attention and lots and lots of conversation.

Experience is a baby’s best teacher.

© 2012, Patricia Nan Anderson.  All rights reserved.

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Dr. Patricia Nan Anderson

Dr. Patricia Anderson is a nationally acclaimed educational psychologist and the author of “Parenting: A Field Guide.” Dr. Anderson is on the Early Childhood faculty at Walden University and she is a Contributing Editor for Advantage4Parents.