With you or without you, your baby will be learning from the moment she is born and starts to take in her new surroundings. Every sight and sound will be a part of her learning process; she will observe everything you do and listen to every word you say. And as the months pass, she will eventually start to copy.
Fully conscious teaching, with books and other articles of learning, will come much later on; but of course, it is entirely up to you.
With our baby daughter, Saffron, I started reading her a bed time story at about six months old. She could not understand fully, but it gave her exposure to books, and the comfort of a bed time routine, with my voice and sounds, and the pictures in the book. It did not matter that every evening it was Goldilocks and the Three Bears, or one of the other old favourites in the book. Here in the Philippines there are not many books of children’s stories in the stores.
Repetition does not matter, in fact it is part of the comfort for the baby. That routine helped to ensure that she slept contented every night, and has only woken once since. That was recently when she seems to have had a bad dream. A quick cuddle, and she was back to sleep again.
One thing to always bear in mind is that your baby, whatever age, will know and understand far more than you think. All the while, when she is not talking, she will be picking up words and their meanings. Those words will eventually come out verbally, even if they don’t sound quite right to begin with.
Personally, I think it is important to speak to a baby in a normal, adult like way and never limit your speech to what you think she knows. A bright child especially will take in just about everything you say when they are past 6 months, and remember it longer than you would expect. One day they will surprise you, and follow your instruction over something you had no idea they could understand.
From a very early age, it is best to “explain while you talk while you do”. If you are feeding her potato, tell her it is potato; if you are preparing a bottle of milk, tell her you are making her milk. Every time you do something in front of her, it is an opportunity to teach her about what is happening around her. By doing so you will speed her knowledge and understanding, expose her more to language, and also help to build your relationship with her. By conversing with her all the time, you are showing her respect as an individual, and that will help her confidence and feeling of belonging. If you treat her as dumb, she will be dumb.
There is no need to force a baby to learn anything. To be effective and useful, it needs to be done in a natural and relaxed way. Saffron is now 20 months, and for many months now she has been the one to decide what she wants to do at bedtime: a story, nursery rhymes, her new teaching cards. Respect her choice, and you help her mature as a child; but let it be known it is her bed time. If her demand is to get up and play again, then you need to be firm, or you will stack up problems for later. You should be the boss, but she should be able to make a reasonable choice.
Sometimes she will surprise you. Saffron got bored with the bed time stories recently, and all she wanted for a few nights was something to hold. For a few bed times, she wanted a book to hold as she lay down, despite the fact there was no chance of reading it once the light was out. Then it was one of her dolls, and next back to stories and nursery rhymes again.
All learning should be pressure free, and fun for the baby. If she wants to learn alone, let her. If she wants your help, help her. Teaching your baby can be a wonderfully rewarding experience. You will probably find she will, in a way, teach you what she wants to learn about. If you stimulate her mind, and she is observant, she will be pointing out things from a very young age. It is important for you to participate with her. If she points at the moon and gets excited, explain to her what it is; if she points to a bird, do the same.
Babies learn an enormous amount in a short time. By conversing with them in a normal way, they will understand simple instructions before you know it. But they do make simple associations and follow those instructions literally. At about 15 months, Saffron often left a bit of her food at meal times and I would finish it for her. After this went on a few weeks, I remarked that I was her garbage bin. A few weeks more passed, and she had finished eating an apple one day, and offered her mum the core. Her mum said: “Put it in the garbage.” Saffron went toddling off, not to the garbage bin, but to me. I was the garbage bin to her, because that is what I had “taught” her a few weeks earlier.
That brought lots of laughs, but when she was corrected the revised knowledge stuck, and now in the same situation she wanders off to find the real garbage bin.
Teaching your baby is a daily and ongoing activity, but one that can just be melded in with your normal activities. It’s a fun time for both of you, so enjoy it while you can.
article was written by Roy Thomsitt, owner author of the Bouncing New Baby website. Ably assisted by his baby daughter, he is also responsible for the