My husband and I are in the grandparenting stage of life, and are getting to revisit the joys of seeing how the human mind grows daily, even in the infant stage.
Though our grandson is only a few months old, we consciously introduce him to new experiences each day. Sometimes we play with vocal sounds: squeals, crowing, guttural growls, laughs, whines and even crying noises. I can see how he reacts to the sound I make, and then when he tries out a new sound, I imitate him. In this way, I see him learning to use pitch, tongue, lips and breath to formulate sounds - which scientists now say is one of the basic prelanguage skills that help children learn to speak.
We massage him and spin him, hold him and bounce him, and see the muscular growth and gross motor skills develop. We show him different textured clothing, and he touches it, exploring it with his fingers, developing fine motor skills. Every new accomplishment makes us grateful for the miracle contained in the human brain. This has reminded us of the impact loving adults have on infant development.
Many readers may already be familiar with the 13th-century attempt of Emperor Frederick II of Germany to discover the natural language children would speak if they were raised in silence, without exposure to language. It was thought they would speak the “language of God.” In fact, the children never spoke any language and all died in childhood, according to author Thomas Curtis Van Cleve, who wrote a book on Frederick II.
Sadly, this kind of result is not merely a phenomenon noticed in the Middle Ages. A study done in 1995 at Baylor University found that children who were rarely touched or spoken to, who were not able to explore or experiment with toys, had brains that were 20 percent to 30 percent smaller than normal among same-age counterparts.
Interestingly, not only does parental interaction help develop language skills and brain development, it also helps them develop imagination skills and play. One study by researcher Wendy Haight, a professor of social work at the University of Illinois, found that parents help children learn through pretending games, often teaching information, skills and even relationship skills such as greetings and manners. When the adult is involved, pretending behavior in children is extended both in duration and complexity than when the child plays alone.
The total of all this research is that the caring adults in a child’s life, even from a very early age, affect the child’s ability to learn, to make positive social contacts, and to innovate and imagine.
These studies have shown this is true among various ethnicities and language groupings, as well as economic levels. Parents and family are necessary to child development and learning. In that way we can see home-schooling as simply the logical extension of the traditional and scientifically proven system of parent-led education.
The other plus to family-centered child-raising is that the child’s emotional needs are being filled, even as they are adding information and skills to their inner repertoire. A child who is loved, encouraged, entertained, guided and enjoyed gains emotional “muscle” that provides stability and many strengths that help in having resiliency and flexibility. Again, studies have shown that children who have been abused and neglected have more difficulty learning, due to the production of brain chemicals that block learning.
Loving parenting is the best brain development tool you can choose to help your child at any age. If you want your children to be smart, successful and well-adjusted human beings, be their first and best teacher. You won’t regret it.
• Kate Tsubata, a home-schooling mother of three, is a freelance writer who lives in Maryland.