- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 25, 2000

Shawn Vanderhoef was newly pregnant with her daughter, Lauren, when she heard about Glenn Doman's methods to multiply a baby's intelligence. Introducing baby to words and pictures on rapidly changing flash cards several times a day made sense, Mrs. Vanderhoef says.
She began the sessions when Lauren, now 22 months, was 8 weeks old, holding her child's attention for 30 seconds with big pictures of leaves, flowers, insects and colors. Using Mr. Doman's method costs the Vanderhoefs little because they made most of their own cards by pasting cutout images on cardboard and writing the words in magic marker.
"I can tell this has made a difference," says Mrs. Vanderhoef, a 35-year-old systems consultant from Dunn Loring. "We go through books, and she picks out pictures and names them. She can identify the word "owl" with no picture. We have done the math program, and she can do complex math problems and point to a card with the right number of dots 90 percent of the time."
Is Lauren Vanderhoef, the daughter of two parents with master's degrees, naturally bright? Or have the flash-card sessions paid off?
A little of both, Mrs. Vanderhoef says. She is always prepared to answer skeptics.
"When I see her look at the cards and solve the equations, she is so excited," Mrs. Vanderhoef says. "It makes skepticism take a back seat. I think she is advanced. I don't care how she got that way."
Mr. Doman's method is available from books such as his "How to Teach Your Baby to Read" and through courses at his training center, the Institute for the Achievement of Human Potential in Philadelphia. It has been around since the early 1960s.
However, in the past two decades as society has become more technologically advanced and education has become more competitive many other programs, books, tapes and even toys have produced similar claims.
Clearly, there is a booming industry, filled with with Web sites, stores and catalogs devoted to educational toys and supplies for children. However, it is hard to track its economic growth because there is a fine line between what is a toy and what is an educational tool.
It is not hard to track the dizzying array of information aimed at parents, however.
Play Mozart, and a child's IQ score can be boosted, some researchers have said.
Provide enough stimulation of the senses with developmental rattles and a "Nutcracker Suite" recording, and you begin to raise baby's IQ by as much as 15 points, author Susan Ludington-Hoe says in her book "How to Have a Smarter Baby: The Infant Stimulation Program for Enhancing Your Baby's Natural Development."
Show your infant pictures of faces drawn in black and white to stimulate baby's brain, say the manufacturers of the Lamaze line of toys.
It's enough to give a new parent a headache, not to mention make parents feel guilty if they choose to string up a pastel mobile and turn on the Rolling Stones. It's also enough to fuel a debate among politicians, educators and child care advocates, each of whom has definite ideas about the best way to rear children.
While a baby's first three years are a time for rapid growth and brain development, a parent who is attentive and interactive with a child is doing fine, says Dr. Stanley Greenspan, clinical professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at George Washington University and the author of several books on child development.
"Playing simple back-and-forth games and looking for toys and playing 'let's pretend' games, these are the kinds of emotional interactions that foster intellectual and emotional growth," Dr. Greenspan says. "You don't need any special gadgets or toys. If you get distracted by gadgets, you might get away from the fundamentals, and then a child may not do so well. If a toy helps a child interact, then it is a good toy. If it takes him into a more isolated way of learning or memory rote, then it is an undermining toy."
Carol Coppole, an early childhood education specialist with the National Association for the Education of Young Children, agrees with Dr. Greenspan. She says objects that children can touch and move provide a learning experience, as do adults talking and singing.
"It is important that stimulation is in the framework of relationships," she says. "Sometimes that can be a simple game no fancier than peekaboo. Flash cards and computer programs are questionable as learning tools at a young age. [Their value] not only has not been proven, it is at odds with what we know best about how a baby learns. It is important that parents follow the attention of baby rather than control or set the agenda."

Busting the superbaby myth

Much research has been conducted over the past 20 years about babies and brains, but much of it has been interpreted to tailor to the needs of the media and child advocacy groups, says John Bruer, author of the book "The Myth of the First Three Years."
There is wide consensus that from about birth through age 1, an infant develops trillions of synapses the connections between brain cells. At birth, infants have the same synaptic density the number of synapses in their brain tissue as adults. Rapid synapse formation following birth hits a plateau at puberty, and then synapse densities decline to adult levels. Scientists also know there are important periods during which, given the right stimulation, brain circuitry develops.
Beyond that lies the disagreement about how best to develop a baby's brain. In fact, Mr. Bruer says nature, not nurture, is responsible for how smart a child will be. He says synapse formation is largely the result of genetics and calls it a misunderstanding of scientific findings to say that synapse growth can be encouraged with stimulation.
Dr. Greenspan disagrees.
"Intelligence is not just inborn," he says. "Nature and nurture work together. If you have a nature that is depriving a child, then a child will not do so well. Even a child with genetic problems can do better if the environment is tailored to his needs."

Different methods, same goals

Experts may argue about how and why the synapses form, but the bottom line is that everything in a baby's world is a learning experience, whether it is seeing shapes and colors at the grocery store or listening to older siblings argue.
Because children under age 3 are so malleable, the early years are the best time to learn a foreign language, says Nancy Rhodes, director of foreign language education and testing at the Washington-based Center for Applied Linguistics.
"What babies and young children are doing all day long is learning language," she says. "If they are exposed to more than one, they can learn that as well. There really haven't been any studies on when the optimum time is to teach a language, but if we expose another language to young children through books, songs and simply speaking they will learn it."
That is the thinking that inspired Julie Aigner-Clark, a Colorado mother of two and a former teacher, to start the Baby Einstein line of developmental videos and CDs.
The Baby Einstein line, which includes titles such as "Baby Mozart" and "Baby Beethoven," shows babies images of familiar objects such as flowers and dogs while playing classical music and naming the objects in different languages.
Mrs. Aigner-Clark calls her productions "video board books," and makes no claims that they will make anyone score higher on the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) 15 years later.
"We tend to get lumped with the make-your-baby-smarter-group videos," she says, "but we're more about fun, about exposing baby to the humanities. We want to expose a baby to other languages, but we don't claim to teach a baby a language. We want to introduce classical music as a way to engage children.
"There has been research on both sides of the 'Mozart effect' issue," Mrs. Aigner-Clark says. "Either way, we think it is not bad to listen to. It is a little silly to claim Mozart will make your baby smarter."
Indeed, research on classical music has appeared to prove a variety of opinions. In 1993, researchers Frances Rauscher and Gordon Shaw of the University of California at Irvine discovered that 19 preschoolers who listened to 10 minutes of Mozart's Piano Sonata K 448 scored up to nine points higher on IQ tests than students exposed to silence or relaxation tapes.
However, a 1999 study at Harvard Medical School analyzed 16 studies on music and intelligence and found that IQ improvements from listening to Mozart were not statistically significant.
In examining 714 people, Harvard researcher Christopher Chabris found no significant improvement in either broader abstract reasoning or spatial thinking.
The participants were tested before and after listening to Mozart. On average, Mozart listeners' scores were enhanced by 1.4 IQ points.

Better parenting, better learning?

Janet Doman, Glenn Doman's daughter and the director of the Institute for the Achievement of Human Potential, says her mission is not to create geniuses. She says she wants to arm parents with the knowledge of how a baby's brain grows. Once the parents know how they can affect a baby's future, they and their child will connect and learn, she says.
"We're not just about making your baby smarter," Miss Doman says. "Our message is that kids have fantastic potential. A newborn baby arrives with tremendous potential and no owner's manual. When we give mom and dad knowledge about how a baby's brain grows, it is wonderful to stand back and watch the remarkable chemistry there. The point is not to be smarter than the other guy, but to have many options.
"It isn't as though you need controlled studies to prove whether this is working," Miss Doman says. "Mother's own common sense tells her, just as it tells her whether baby is happy. Children have a rage to learn when we don't put obstacles in front of them."
In other words, one of the goals of the institute is to teach parents to respond and connect with their children, just as Dr. Greenspan advises. Connected parents make better teachers, whether they are using flash cards and math problems or smiles and nursery rhymes.
"There are two ways to look at a child," Miss Doman says. "You can see him as a brilliant, linguistic genius acquiring language at an astounding rate, or you can see him as a little pain in the neck and put him in a playpen."
Mrs. Vanderhoef, of course, sees Lauren as the former, so much so that she intends eventually to home-school. She does not think she is pushing her daughter, only giving her a foundation for a wonderful life.
"I am hoping the circuitry in her brain is forming," she says. "I hope that when she takes in new material, she will be able to assimilate it easier. I hope that by doing [the Doman method], she will be equipped to do whatever she wants in life."

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