Consider these statements from the UNICEF program on Early Childhood Development –
“Over 80% of your baby’s brain is formed by the age of three.”
“Every time a parent speaks to a young child, it sparks something in the child; it’s a stimulation to the child. It forms brain connections.”
“15 minutes of play can spark thousands of brain connections in your baby’s brain.”
These statements are backed by compelling research on cognitive science. Science has shown that proper care, nurturing and learning experiences in the early years of a child provide lifelong benefits for its learning, physical and mental health. The connection between nurturing in early childhood and subsequent well being in adults has prompted governments around the world to invest in early childhood development. It has become a cost-effective way to promote inclusive growth, expand equal opportunity and end poverty.
The word ‘cognition’ refers to the processes involved in thinking and learning. Some of these processes are perceiving, remembering, reasoning, judging, imagining, and problem-solving. Early childhood years are the most crucial in the development of neural connections that enable us to move, think, communicate and do any work.
Since most of the early inputs to a child’s growth come from parents, we have listed below 7 facts that every parent should know about the cognitive development of their child –
Engage in parentese (6 months-14 months)
Your infant’s brain is quite developed at birth. Every day, as infants interact with the environment, they build new connections and pathways between nerve cells. Professor Usha Goswami, Director of the Centre for Neuroscience in Education at the University of Cambridge writes that infants use statistical learning to understand the sequence of sounds that make up language. This learning happens in the context of a caretaker. This social interaction is very important.
Listen to your baby’s babbling and cooing and respond with delighted vocalizations. Elongate your vowels and consonants giving your baby a chance to map it. Sing songs to your baby as your child is naturally attracted to melody. Hearing your vocalizations will help your child build language skills.
Aid your child’s discovery process (6 months-2 years)
Infants and toddlers are scientists investigating the physical universe. Simple sense and motor experiences help them develop perspective, categorize and integrate information. Provide an uncluttered yet stimulating environment to experiment. Let them use toys as tools. Mouthing a toy, shaking, stacking, slotting toys help them to learn about object properties like size, shape, textures, color, movement in space etc.
Through play, they learn about cause and effect, gravity, and balance. Playing with sand, water or slime lets your child know about the properties of solid, liquid and gas. Give them the space to experiment and learn. Share their joy of discovery.
Build your child’s vocabulary (1 year-6 years)
A study conducted in the US estimated that children from high socioeconomic status (SES) families heard about 487 words per hour, compared to 178 words per hour for children from families on welfare. Hence by the time they were aged 4 years, the high SES children had been exposed to about 44 million words, compared to 12 million words for the lower SES children. Learning words represent an important milestone in cognitive development as they are symbolic of objects and events and are different from the objects and events themselves.
Engaging your child in meaningful conversation, reading to them and providing good verbal stimulation will ensure that they do not have any word gap as they enter school.
Enable the development of their ‘Theory of Mind’ (18 months – 4 years)
‘Theory of Mind’ refers to an understanding of one’s own and other people’s mental and emotional states. This is an important social skill that enables children to get along with other people. Children less than a year old develop an understanding of the mental state of their caregivers. Between 18 months and 4 years, they develop a sense of self and understand that other people may have different likes and dislikes. Have conversations with your child which contain references to the mental state of the child, yourself and people around you.
A strong vocabulary in mental state will help your child develop a better awareness of themselves and those around them. Promote pretend play. This would require them to understand other people’s perspective and hence increase their repertoire of human emotions. Similarly, storybook reading will help increase your child’s awareness of human behavior.
Encourage multisensory learning (2 years onwards)
Brain research has shown that permanent memory is composed of a reference to images, smell, taste and kinesthetic sensations. For example, a concept in science may depend on neurons being simultaneously active in visual, spatial, memory and kinaesthetic regions. When learning is given a multisensory dimension, it may turn out to be long-lasting. For example, while teaching phonics to your child try to use manipulatives like an arrangement of letter tiles, assign a gesture to sounds, follow a touch and read approach and so on.
At Cuemath, we extensively use Math manipulatives to enable a child to physically construct a concept followed by a visual representation of the concept. This practice accounts for a deeper understanding of the Math concept involved as the same concept is elaborated through different modes.
Develop a logical thought process in your child (6 years onwards)
As children grow older and enter primary school, their inductive and deductive reasoning begin to strengthen. They start to learn by analogies. Encourage the development of hypothetical thinking,cause-effect relationship, problem framing, problem-solving and evaluation in your child. While the cause-effect relationship can be deduced from social interactions, discussing with children about their experience can help them generalize and build rules in the social context. Performing simple science experiments with them at home using laws of motion, electricity, magnetism, chemical properties of matter will not only build awareness of the world but strengthen their cognitive structures.
At Cuemath, we encourage children to solve puzzles and perform mental aptitude exercises. This develops their ability to apply analogies, recognize patterns and strengthen deductive and inductive reasoning.
Help your child be reflectively aware of sensory data (8 years onwards)
Students develop cognitive structures by becoming aware of the data being provided by their senses. This should be followed by reflection on the data, visualizing and processing information. As a parent – engage in joint activities with your child. Ask them questions that help to derive generalizations and extract rules from these experiences. For example, you can help them deduce rules about grammar by providing a number of sentences and ask them to list their observations. Provide them historical examples from the social environment and help them to come up with theories on equality and civil rights. Knowledge derived this way will build their analysis skills and they will retain this knowledge for the long term.
At Cuemath, a child is never taught a Math principle but instead is allowed to arrive at the conclusions underlying a concept through reflective analysis.
A child’s intellectual ability is a function of both heredity and environment. While the genetic inheritance cannot be altered, parents can ensure the development of sound cognitive structures by providing a stimulating learning environment and a variety of experiences right from an early age.
As children start to develop meta-cognitive abilities, that is, develop knowledge of their own cognitive abilities, they will be able to reflect on their strengths and weaknesses and apply strategies to accomplish their goals. It is the responsibility of the parent to scaffold their child’s learning to this level.
I have several years of software programming experience but found my true calling in teaching and I’ve been CueMath Teacher Partner since 2016. I am at heart a constant learner and love to share this joy of learning with my students. I believe the best teacher inspires the love of knowledge in a child which sets them on a lifelong quest for learning.