Bright from Birth or On the Fast Track to Learning Too Early?
written by: Kara Bietz
• edited by: Laurie Patsalides
• updated: 1/5/2012
Flash cards, Baby Einstein, music classes, Mommy and Me swimming and gymnastics. And that is all before your one year olds nap. How much is too much when it comes to early education and activities? Where do we draw the line?
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A Leg Up
In our current society of programs such as No Child Left Behind, Birth to Three and early intervention, is it possible that we are pushing our babies into an educational environment way before it is appropriate? Many pregnant mothers play classical music to their bellies throughout pregnancy because it is thought to give children an advantage in math if they listen to the rhythms of classical music. We've all seen the commercials for those "Teach Your Baby to Read" programs, claiming that you can teach your 18 month old to recognize printed words on a flashcard and that by the age of two, they'll be reading Wuthering Heights. Is all of this necessary? In order for your child to perform well in school and have an academic advantage, do you need to enroll him in as many activities and education experiences as possible right from the womb?
Child development experts know that babies need attention, love and to feel a connection with a trusted adult in order to develop into a functioning member of society. Providing babies with a nurturing environment in which to grow, explore and develop on their own timeline will do more for your baby than any yoga or music class can. Those for educational materials for babies argue that infant's brains are the most malleable, and we can impart so much knowledge in the first year of life. They claim that there is only a very small window for planting the seeds of knowledge and children's brains will only make these important connections during infancy.
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The Mommy Factor
When discussing whether or not infant education is appropriate or not, one cannot forget about the Mommy Factor. When a woman becomes pregnant, she is inundated with unsolicited advice from friends, family members and even concerned strangers. Bottle feed, breast feed, attachment parenting, cry-it-out, day care, and stay at home...the list is endless. It is up to the Mom and her good judgment to decide which advice to listen to and which will not work for her family. The difficulty comes in the first year of the baby's life. Most moms are desperate to do everything right the first time around. Moms and Dads stress about which formula to use, which baby food is best, even which detergent to wash Junior's clothes in. When a product or service is offered to a new parent with claims that it will make their baby "perfect", chances are parents will immediately sign up, no matter what the cost or consequence.
We're all guilty of it. If we were not, websites such as BrillBaby.com and companies such as Baby Einstein would not exist. Parents are desperate to give their child a leg up. If that means flashcards and videos with classical music and mind-numbing wooden toys dancing around the screen, then we, as concerned parents will pay almost any amount of money for a chance at making our baby the best he can be. Never mind that his brain will make the same connections if we read him Goodnight, Moon every night before bed. Or that his sponge-like infant brain will respond the same way to a human voice singing "You Are My Sunshine" as it will to a CD of classical music.
Why do we behave in this manner? Peer pressure. If our neighbor down the street tried those videos and her child was potty trained at the age of six months, we'd exclaim, "why that must be the magic bullet!" It is the key to a happy baby, a happy family, a happy life. Our quest to be the first, the best, and the "most" is beginning to trickle down to our children, even our babies. The competitive nature of parenting is causing us to go a little haywire and it is our babies that are suffering the (yes, mild) consequences.
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Try This Instead
Do you need to take a shower? It is probably very easy to let Junior sit in his swing and watch a Baby Einstein video while you take a much needed shower. You should do so without guilt. But, you should probably not expect that Junior will be graduating from high school by the time he is three because you are showing him a Baby Einstein video each day while you shower. Do not have false expectations that these products will give your baby an academic edge or help him get into Harvard early decision or even learn to talk, read, walk, potty train or drive a car any earlier than the other babies in the neighborhood.
If you and your baby are getting a little stir crazy, spending each day together in the house with not a lot of outside company, join a playgroup or a Mommy and Me class. Do it because you would like to socialize with other parents. Do it because it's nice to have a change of scenery once in awhile. Do it because your baby enjoys the time outside of the home. Don't do it because you believe that Junior's social skills will suddenly reach cruise director standards or that he will become a gymnastics prodigy because of infant tumbling class. Don't start training for the Olympic team yet. Watch your baby for cues. Does he enjoy interacting with the other babies? Is the class fun and not competitive or demanding? Does the teacher or leader understand basic child development? Are the activities provided appropriate for your child's age and interests?
If you are concerned about not being able to give your child these experiences due to money or any other reason, don't fret. Reading and singing to your child, holding him close, playing with him on the floor and giving him positive early experiences will really give him a leg up. When a child is comfortable with his surroundings, feels loved and secure, he will thrive. No batteries, BluRay player or registration fee required.