Before the child is old enough to walk or talk, or to begin training in controlled movement, music, art, and language — from birth to about 1 year — is the time to begin shaping critical brain – body connections and correspondences.
The child is born with most of the brain cells he will have as an adult, and with far more synaptic connections. These numbers are determined by the child’s gene expression and his environment within the womb.
Early in life, before and during “the synaptic pruning” (PDF) up to early adolescence, is a prime time to take advantage of early childhood brain plasticity. Early infancy is a particularly dynamic time, when both pruning and rapid synaptic formation are occurring simultaneously. By the ages of 3-5, pruning begins to outpace new synaptic formation — as the young brain continues to specialise (and limit) itself. The early environment of infants (and toddlers) makes a huge difference in the ultimate competence of the child’s brain.
Infants learn the particular quality of sounds in human languages that are spoken within his hearing. Familiarity with these early language sounds facilitates later language learning of the particular language(s) that the young infant hears. For example, if a child is destined to grow up and make his way in China, it is better if he hears proper “Chinese” spoken during his early months of life.
The same applies to music, which is but another form of auditory “language.” Music heard during the first few months of life will not be remembered as an adult, but its effects on the young brain will be profound — in terms of brain rhythms and subtle brain logics. It will influence the child’s later learning of language, maths, and, of course, music itself.
Movement training for newborns and young infants is a far more subtle thing than it will be at the toddler stage. It is best with the very young to combine movement training with simple holding, massage, and soft gentle rhythmic speech to accompany the subtle movements.
Again, the older child or adult will never remember these early trainings. But the deep, pre-verbal brain that forms the core of later learning will not forget.
Art training for the very young is just as much tactile as visual. Objects of various shapes should hang above his crib, and adorn the walls. Gently and slowly allowing the baby to feel surface textures of various items, as well as their shapes, edges, and temperatures, helps to form early concepts of art. As soon as the baby’s vision becomes clearer, allow the baby experiences that reinforce the correspondence between what he sees and what he feels.
Reading or telling stories to the child is excellent training in the prosody — the timing, accents, emphasis, and melody — of language. The child will not remember the stories as such, but more and more of the words and style of spoken language will stay with the child, over the months.
Infants should be raised within an enriched sensory environment, where they can trust that their needs will be met promptly, and their safety and comfort considered. Allowances for ample sleep and proper diet must be made.
As the child grows in infancy, movement training can become more vigorous — and even somewhat rowdy, depending upon the infant’s sensibilities. Bungee devices that allow the infant to initiate movements he would not otherwise be able to make, expand his imagination of movement. Zip line devices will teach basic gravitational concepts — even to children who may not tolerate being tossed gently into the air and caught.
As the child’s senses are refined, provide him with toys and safe objects of various distinct shapes. Children love spherical balls and cubic blocks, but they also need exposure to pyramids, other polyhedra, various classical curves, and objects that demonstrate symmetry and perspective. Rudimentary artistic puzzles are very useful.
By the time the child is ready to begin walking, he should have been exposed to applied art, such as simple machines and simple construction.
Whether the child creeps, crawls, rolls, or ambulates in other interesting ways, such early body movements should quickly be made goal directed — in the same way that reaching for a mobile that hangs above the infant’s crib is goal directed. Problem-solving should be made an early part of the infant’s life, and posed as a slowly graduated phenomenon. Expect setbacks, and be prepared to begin again at an earlier level from time to time.
Early infancy training should not detract from sleep, meals, play, outdoor time, or other normal occupations of infancy. In fact, the training should be seamlessly rolled into play, meals, going to sleep, waking up, exploring the outdoors, etc.
What the infant experiences during early infancy will help determine how well his mechanisms of gene expression can lay the foundations for later learning and development.
Very few children in the history of the world have been raised optimally, according to their unique needs, and the nature of their world. While it is true that young children possess significant resiliency, it is also true that you will never see the child’s missed opportunities to develop unique personal skills that might have served him well in later life.
Infants should be sung to (and with), have music played to them with various instruments, be held and moved safely in a comforting way — but in ways that gradually help expand his sense of movement. Stories should be told with expression and emotion, and ended in a way that leaves the infant settled and comforted.
Match the child’s facial expressions and body movements, as he grows older and begins to incorporate motor “mirroring.” As he learns to mirror your expressions and motions, his brain is learning how to physically respond to the outside environment.
These are a few of the ways that early infancy training can be shaped to morph cleanly into the Dangerous Child training for toddlers and pre-school children.
Dangerous Child training begins, of course, well before conception. And it continues throughout the prenatal period.
But it is often difficult for parents to visualise how one could possibly apply the Dangerous Skills taught to pre-adolescent and adolescent youth, to newborns and very young infants. Providing these few examples provides grist for the imagination.
Thanks to advanced psychology and neuroscience, it is never too late to have a Dangerous Childhood. But the earlier the training is begun, the more profound its effects over a lifetime.
More from “Doman-Mom:”
1. Teach joyfully
You must approach the game of learning with the same abandonment and enthusiasm you would approach the game of patty cake or peek a boo. All children are drawn to joyousness. Your attitude towards a subject determines his. Never approach your teaching with soberness and seriousness. Learning is the greatest game you will play with your child: keep it as such. Present learning as a privilege he has earned: never, never as a chore.
2. Teach clearly
When we talk to tiny children, we naturally talk to them in a loud, clear voice. Teach your tiny child in such a voice and make your materials large and clear. Present the information in an honest, factual, and straightforward way. If you give a tiny child the facts, he will discover the rules that govern them.
3. Teach quickly
You must teach your tiny child quickly and briefly. He has much to do and can’t stay in one place long. You must be content to teach him for only a few seconds at a time. That is all it takes. Present him with a set of information, and then come back to it later. When you teach in many ten- and fifteen-second sessions, you can accomplish more than you ever imagined possible.
4. Always leave him hungry for more
You must always, always, always stop before your child wants you to stop. Always stop before he wants to stop. Be sensitive to your child’s attention and mood, and leave him hungry for more, every time, without fail.
5. Teach only at the best times
The key to teaching your tiny child is to only do so at the best possible times. Never try and teach him in a distracting, chaotic environment. Never try and teach him at a time when he is hungry, tired, or out of sorts. Never try and teach him when you are out of sorts. You must be ever-discerning of your child’s temperament and mood and be willing to put your teaching away for the morning or day if needed.
6. Teach with consistency
If you are to be successful in teaching you must teach with consistently. If you child is to remain interested you must keep the ball rolling. Starting and stopping constantly will cause him to lose interest because he will believe the information you are bringing out again is old hat. Organize yourself to teach in such a way as to be able to remain consistent in your endeavors.
7. Teach new information
You will be surprised at how quickly your tiny child learns new information. Don’t go over the same information over and over again when he already knows it. You must be keen to sense when he knows something, and regularly give him that which is fresh and new.
8. Teach as a gift
We have come to equate teaching and testing as two sides of the same coin. You must forget this notion if you are to be successful in teaching your tiny child. Teaching is the process of giving information, as you would give a gift. Testing is asking for it back. Never test your child. It is essentially disrespectful and he will sense that you don’t trust that he knows the information. If he learns that your teaching always has strings attached, he will push you and your teaching away. Learning is a gift, the most precious one you can give your child.
Good advice — except for the part about never testing the child. Life itself is a test, and if you never put your child into situations that challenge and test him, you are treading the edges of parental malpractise. Domanmom has a good heart, but like most well-meaning and kindly moms she fails to see what is coming, and why growing children to be Dangerous is so important.