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Every time I take a baby in my arms I get lost in the warmth and the beautiful baby smell, but when I notice her intense gaze I always wonder, ‘What is this baby thinking?’ Given that Intellitots is an Early Learning and Daycare Centre, I have the opportunity of working with babies day in and day out, so this question of what do babies think kept popping up again and again. It led me to do some research on the emerging science on children’s minds. What I found, completely blew me away.
What latest research says
Scientists like Alison Gopnik and Andrew Meltzoff have proved beyond doubt, through rigorous experiments, that at birth, babies can discriminate human faces and voices from other sights and sounds, and even have a preference for familiar faces, voices and smells. What is amazing is that they do recognize their mother’s voices based on the audible sounds they hear in the womb. Even before babies learn to crawl or walk or talk, they are able to differentiate between happy faces and sad faces. How did the researchers conclude this? They separately turned on sound tracks with a happy voice and a sad voice, and found that babies looked longer at the face displaying the emotion that matched the emotion they heard. Not once but again and again.
One-month-old babies can imitate facial expressions like sticking out one’s tongue. While at first glance it may not seem very significant, a deeper thought will reveal how magical this is, given that the baby does not even know where the tongue is and where the lips are.
Lessons for parents and educators
The implications of these findings are immense not only for parents but also for caregivers and educators. As neuroscience techniques have improved, they have shown how the different stimuli emerging from the environment shape the baby’s brain. An adult brain has about 100 billion neurons, which remain roughly the same through the whole life. What changes are the connections between the neurons. How do these connections form? After birth, as the child experiences different sensory stimuli, the neurons begin to form connections. The point to note is that the process of formation of connections happens at a wildly faster rate in babies than in adults.
All of this research supports the fact that early years are foundation years when we learn most and our brains are open to new experiences. Preschool children have brains that are literally more active, more connected and more flexible than adult brains. As such, the experiences in the daycare and preschool have a lasting impact on children.
So now when I take a baby in my arms, I feel responsible for the experience and appreciate how my short positive interaction with the baby or a toddler will play a role in shaping her worldview.
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