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Baby Talk
Development of Intelligence in Children:
The First Three Years

by Linda M. Levine, M.Ed.
Reprinted in Future Reflections from The Circuit, a publication of the South Dakota Parent Connection.

From the Editor: One way to test the value of information from professional literature about blind children is to compare it to the information in literature about basic child development. If it is consistent, then it can probably be trusted. If it is inconsistent or even contradictory, then it should be questioned. This isn't the only measure parents can use to judge what they read about blindness and the needs of blind children, but it's a good one.

For this reason I believe general child development articles, such as the following, do have a place (once in a while) within the pages of Future Reflections. Once I got past the title (in my experience, discussions of intelligence tend to stir up more controversy than they enlighten), I was impressed with the sound observations and good sense recommendations. A few of the suggestions are dependent upon vision, but most are not. Furthermore, the author doesn't make a big deal about the process. There is no hype about how difficult it is for children to learn, or parents to teach. What a refreshing change from what one reads in so much of the professional literature on blindness and children!

In any event, for its own intrinsic value, and for the value it may have as a litmus test for blindness literature on this topic, here is "Baby Talk—Development of Intelligence in Children: The First Three Years:"

"When do I teach my child about numbers and colors?" "Will my child learn anything by just playing?" "My child has Down's Syndrome. Can I help her learn?"

Parents are anxious for their children's intelligence to develop quickly and well. The good news is that parents have the unique opportunity to raise the intelligence level of their children during the first few years of lifeand have a wonderful time doing it. But it can be hard to know what kind of stimulation and how much stimulation to give.

Experts disagree as to just what intelligence is, but they guess that between 50 percent and 80 percent is inherited. That means that your efforts, plus your baby's own interest in what is happening, will have a lot to do with your child's intelligence. Motivation plays a key role in the way a baby learns.

The first two years of life are important ones for the baby's growing brain. When babies are exposed to sights, sounds, textures to feel, smells, and tastes, more connections are made inside the brain.

Children need both the active involvement of parents and the opportunity to try to explore on their own. Stimulate your baby but don't overdo it; it's easy to be so eager that you do all the playing and the baby does all the watching! Children who are pushed too fast often have problems with certain types of thinking skills. Excessive spankings or other harsh punishment can also harm a child's intellectual, physical, and social development.

Children learn by playing
Playing is natural, enjoyableand may be the most important way children learn to adapt to the new world. For adults, learning something new means work. But for the child, learning is usually exciting and fun. Toddlers love to help wash the car, sweep the floor, or pull the weeds. This "help" can be fun or infuriating for the adults, but the toddler is learning about how things work in the world.

Playing with real objects and imitating adults is an effective way for young children to learn.

Children need lots of time to play with real objects before they understand the meaning of letters and numbers. Don't think of teaching your child so much as guiding your child toward discoveries about how things work, where things fit, and why things act the way they do.

Just what is intelligence?
Think of intelligence as a kind of road. Each child inherits a certain potential for developing intelligence. The stimulation a child receives during the early yearsprovided by adults and through the child's own interestshelps develop the potential and helps determine where the child's intelligence winds up along the road.

A child might be at the "developmentally delayed" point in the road, at the point called "above average," or someplace in between. Children whose intelligence develops more slowly are just at different points on the road than are children whose intelligence develops more quickly.

Children with mild, moderate, or severe intellectual delays need stimulation to go further along the road. Children with severely delayed intellectual development may need the same kind of sensory experiences that infants and toddlers thrive on. Sensory experiences are where intellectual development begins.

Children explore and understand the environment through their senses. Young children learn best from experiences that involve more than one sense, so provide many objects that can be tasted, seen, smelled, heard, felt, and played with.

Gentle touches, patting, tickling, and rhythmic movements are naturally stimulating for baby and for children whose intelligence is developing at a much slower rate. Stroking with a soft baby brush, cotton ball, or piece of velvet, or gently massaging arms, body, and legs are good ways to put children in touch with their own bodies. You can also stimulate your baby's senses by giving interesting things to look at or listen to.

Babies need to look at slowly moving objects, a variety of patterns, and bright colors. They need to hear adults talk to them and sing to them from the moment they are born! They need to hear sounds of things like clocks, rattles, music boxes, and cars. Long before they can talk, small children understand what is being said to them.

The miracle of language development is intertwined with the development of intelligence.

What about memory?
Memory gets stronger as babies become toddlers. Being able to remember what took place in the past allows children to gather information, to compare it with old information, and to make new connections. The toddler who says "Nana" as the car gets to Grandmother's house is showing good long-term memory. It's a big step when children use memory to relate what is happening to what has happened in the past.

Parents often think of early intelligence as knowing the names of things. This skillconcept formationresults after children have had many experiences and can link those experiences to a name. At first, all four-legged animals might be called "doggies." As children get older and focus on concept formation, the animals become cats, dogs, cows, and horses. It takes time for the thinking processes to mature, but how exciting it is to watch it happen, a bit more each day!

What can I do to help my child build intelligence?

• Create an atmosphere for learning and be sure your child is interested. Let the child lead the activity; stop when the child is bored, tired, or frustrated.

• Repeat those activities that your child wants to do again. They may be boring for you but enjoyable for the child.

• Encourage your child. Assure your child that making mistakes is a normal part of learning.

• Encourage active play. Running, jumping, and other active play is better than sitting in front of the TV or watching adults play.

• Keep a variety of toys and books on low shelves where your child can reach them. Introduce new toys one at a time. Too many toys can overstimulate a child.

• Help your child use the senses—hearing, seeing, touching, tasting, and smellingto explore objects. Focus on one sense at a time.

• Talk a lot as your child explores. Talk about what is happening and what you are doing.

• Provide toys that allow baby to see cause and effect. Pushing a button to make a cat appear is not as stimulating as hitting a pan with a spoon and seeing it move, or hearing the noise.

• Provide activities at the child's developmental level. Allow the child to choose which toys to play with.

• Work as a team with your child's teacher or therapists. Share ideas and solutions. Together, you can help your child live up to full potential, at school, at home, and in life.

For more information see Dodson, F., and Alexander, A., 1986, Your Child: Birth to Age Six, New York, Simon and Schuster. Healty, J. M., 1987, Your Child's Growing Mind, New York, Doubleday.

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