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7 Ways to Stimulate Early Learning

As parents, our greatest desire is to see our children succeed. Educational success is a big part of that overall picture.

In our quest to give our children the opportunity for success later in life, we often overlook the early years as a means to achieve the goal of raising children with a well rounded education.

The United States Department of Education Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, makes the following observation, “Research confirms what every parent knows; that the first five years of a child’s life matter greatly in determining what sort of adult he is likely to become…”

Out of the four million children who enter kindergarten each year, many are already at a disadvantage due to a lack of early childhood education. While socioeconomic status plays a big part in a child’s early childhood education, parents of any socioeconomic status can ensure that their children are on the road to educational success by implementing early learning activities into their children’s daily lives.

Early learning starts at birth. Helping your child become a lifelong learner is one of the best gifts you can give your child in order to ensure his or her future success.

7 Reading

The National Educational Association determined that reading to children at home, ensures future educational success. Studies found that only fifty three percent of children were read to on a regular basis by members of their family.

Children who were read to have the following advantages over children whose parents fail to read to them:

  • The group of children who had been read to recognize the letters of the alphabet more often than those who were not read to at home.
  • Children who were read to were more likely to be able to count to twenty, write their names, and often pretended to read themselves.
  • Children who came from homes with a wide variety of reading materials did better on standardized testing.
  • As they got older, the students who had been read to did better on reading competency tests in upper elementary grades.

When it comes to reading, experts agree that it is never too early to start reading to your child. Reading to babies and toddlers teaches them to love reading at a young age. They grow to associate reading with positive bonding with their parents and other family members.

Even the youngest baby can appreciate time spent listening to the tone and cadence of a family member’s voice. These early encounters with language encourage verbal skills, and foster a positive bond between baby and his or her family.

Your baby may not understand every word that you read to him or her, but eventually the words become associated with the pictures in the books you read. Before you know it, you have dramatically expanded your child’s vocabulary, all in a few minutes a day.

Here are a few pointers on how to get started reading with your little one:

  • Reading should be a cozy time. Often parents read to their children before bed as a way to help a little one settle down for a night of rest.
  • Don’t worry about reading every word in the book, young babies have very low attention spans. Read what you can and don’t stress about the rest!
  • Point out and name common objects in the books you read to your child. This will help increase your child’s vocabulary as he or she begins to associate words with different things.
  • Gradually increase the amount of time you read to your child each day. As your child gets older, his or her attention span will lengthen, and you will be able to read for longer periods of time.

6 Visual Stimulation

One of the biggest things you can do to pique your child’s interest in the world around him or her is to stimulate your child visually. Visual stimulation doesn’t cost a thing, and is effective from the time a baby is just a few days old.

Some ways you can visually stimulate your baby are:

  • From the moment your baby is born, he is learning about the world around him. One of the earliest ways that you can visually stimulate your baby is to make eye contact with him. Your baby will soon recognize your face and the faces of those closest to him. These early interactions help set the stage for a life long curiosity that will make learning easier in later years.
  • Make faces for your baby to imitate. Babies are able to imme simple facial expressions from just a few days old. This process is the same one that your baby will use to solve problems when he is older.
  • Mirrors are a great way to stimulate your baby visually. Placing a mirror near baby’s changing table or placing a shatterproof mirror near baby’s crib is a great way to keep your baby occupied, and offer visual stimulation.
  • Show your baby brightly colored toys or pictures to offer visual stimulation. Move the objects back and forth and up and down so that baby learns to track them with his eyes. 

5 Auditory Stimulation

Your baby processes the world around him using his senses, and using auditory stimulation helps your baby make sense of the world around him. Babies are able to discern certain sounds from in the womb, it only makes sense that you build upon that once baby is born.

Besides reading to your baby, there are many ways you can use auditory stimulation to encourage your baby to explore the world around him:

  • Talk to your baby. Some parents feel weird talking to their babies because they are unable to answer them. Talking to your baby helps him to process vocabulary quicker, and builds an association between words and actions.
  • Music can be used to stimulate your baby as well. Music has been proven to have an effect on babies, even those that are still in the womb. While research suggests that certain types of music may enhance learning, a definitive link between all music and learning has been established.
  • Announcing certain activities before they occur can help your baby learn cause and effect. Saying, “It’s time for a bath” before giving him a bath teaches him to associate the action with a certain set of words. 

4 Play

Playtime is about more than amusing your baby. It is a time to bond with your baby, and for baby to learn. Your baby is constantly processing cues from the world around him. Playtime is an easy time to introduce your child to new experiences.

Playtime is a a time to introduce simple concepts such as soft, hard, smooth and rough. During playtime, make an effort to introduce your baby to as many sensations as possible, without causing sensory overload. Consciously decide to introduce a new sensation to each play time.

Here are some ideas for making the most out of playtime with your little one:

  • Get down on your baby’s level and let him climb on you. This will help boost his coordination and problem solving skills.
  • Place cushions, pillows, and other baby safe objects around the room to make an obstacle course for your baby. Crawling over, under, and through a simple obstacle course helps your baby develop coordination and learn to solve problems.
  • Dance with your baby. Put on some upbeat music and really get things moving! Turn on a quieter tune to slow things down a bit.
  • Play with blocks, shape sorters, simple puzzles or balls to help baby with coordination and motor skills.
  • Play peek a boo. Hiding behind your hands,under a blanket, or popping out from behind objects teaches your baby that you will come back when you go away.

3 Explore

Go exploring with your baby. Place him in a front carrier or in a stroller and go for a walk. Talk to your baby about the things around him. Fresh air and sunshine are wonderful for your baby’s physical and emotional wellness. Make sure that you dress your baby appropriately for the weather, and don’t forget sunblock!

Spread a blanket on the grass and allow your baby to take in the sights and sounds of nature. Talk to your baby about his surroundings. Let the grass tickle his toes, or broaden his horizons by showing him colorful leaves and flowers.

Research shows that a baby’s environment can either encourage or discourage learning. Babies who are exposed to a variety of safe environments develop a natural interest in the world around them.

Whenever you are out and about, talk to your baby about what’s going on around him. Even a simple trip to the store can be a sensory experience for your little one. Look for opportunities to expose your baby to different environments that will stimulate his senses.

2 Tactile Stimulation

Touch creates a remarkable connection between babies and their parents and caregivers, and is a necessary part of development. Studies have shown that touch impacts all areas of infant development.

Immediately after birth, your baby is sensitive to the power of touch. From those first important minutes after baby is born, to later infancy, touch has an effect on your baby like no other form of stimulation.

Research shows that infants that received infant massage were better able to respond to the stresses of life outside of the womb. Massage also had a favorable effect on the sleep and wake patterns of babies who regularly received infant massage.

As babies mature, touch becomes a big part in helping them learn. Exposing your baby to different sensations and textures ignites his curiosity. Curious children are natural learners. By exploring his environment, your child is unknowingly committing thousands of facts to memory.

Here some ideas for introducing tactile stimulation into your baby’s world:

  • Take your baby swimming. The sensation of being in the water will help stimulate your baby’s senses. Talk about the temperature of the water, and encourage your child to splash and kick.
  • Get out the pots and pans and show your baby how to make some noise!
  • Let your baby squish shaving cream or other gooey substances between his fingers.
  • Blow bubbles and let baby catch them
  • Let your baby experience nature. Let him feel the grass, listen to nature sounds on a walk, feel the rough bark of a tree, or feel the differences in animal fur.
  • Tickle baby with a feather.
  • Put together a box of baby safe items with different textures. (smooth, rough, soft, etc.)

1 Sign Language

Research done by the National Institutes of Health indicates that using sign language to communicate with your baby can be beneficial to early learning. In babies with no hearing difficulties, researchers observed relevant communication via signs from six months of age on.

Other research indicates that using simple signs to communicate with your baby can reduce frustration, as babies are able to communicate their needs months before becoming verbal. Researchers successfully communicated with babies in order to avoid a tantrum.

Babies begin to communicate with the outside world from birth. Parents and caregivers learn to distinguish the difference between an “I’m hungry” cry and a “I’m sleepy” cry. Babies also use facial expressions and body cues to communicate.

It stands to reason the babies can be taught to effectively communicate with others via signs. The key is to be consistent, and to make learning fun. Just as you say a word to your baby, you can say the word and sign it as well.

Some parents have had concerns that sign language will cause a delay in verbal skills. There is no evidence to support this. In fact the babies that have been studied became verbal six months before babies who did not use signs.

Encouraging early learning requires intentional parenting. Most of the methods described are extremely low cost. The main idea is to spark a curiosity that later ignites into a lifelong love of learning.

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