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Children are one of the wonders of nature. They are a promise of the future. A future that can be as bright and brilliant as we wish it to be. Here I say ‘as we wish it to be’ because so much of what becomes of our children is dependent on what we do with them, or for them.
While on one hand these young kids are the most independent beings one would get to see on this planet, for they have a way of getting what they want, but on the other, they certainly are dependent on us for their nutrition, environment, and exposure; things which actually define the extent to which they will achieve their full potential. And therefore my earlier statement.
Children have some basic needs which are evident and give visible indications. These therefore are often most easily fulfilled. Like nutritious food, appropriate clothing, sufficient rest, health and well being. These elementary necessities hold the most distinct position in the development of the child. But what needs to be understood is that it takes care of only the physical development of the child, at the body and its organ’s formation and functioning level. However, there are some other needs in a growing child that requires a different kind of nourishment in order to ensure the most appropriate development of this child, who is preparing not only to meet his, but also create ‘our’ future.
My intention here is to draw attention to the key development that one needs to focus on which is the ‘cognitive development’ of the child. Cognitive development of the child refers to child's development in terms of information processing, conceptual resources, perceptual skill, language learning, and other aspects of brain development. Simply said it is the emergence of the ability to think and understand.
Cognitive development although dependent on nutrition, is equally or rather more, dependent on other factors such as spending time exploring the environment, exposure to new but real experiences, and spending time in nature.
Children are born curious and have an innate curiosity towards the world around them.
The first way babies interact with nature is by holding things in hand, putting them in their mouth and getting a firsthand sensorial experience of the object. This process although altered over time, continues until the age of six where the children primarily learn through their bodies. During this stage, the child’s body is most alive and in constant communication with the brain. In fact, there is a rich two-way system that is at work where the child’s body informs the brain of all the things that it explores by way of ‘doing’.
Although there is a certain amount of risk involved, it is important to allow children to explore their immediate environment. In case of infants, it is important to let them roam freely in surroundings that have been made childproof with softened corners and edges, sealed electric points, safety doors, etc. They also shouldn’t be carried around all the time as it disconnects them from the real world. Keeping a close eye, but allowing appropriate freedom to explore is essential.
The next best way children learn about things is by observing. They love being outside in the open and amidst nature. This desire is so strong that you will see children getting restless and cranky if there is even a slight delay in the ritual of their time outdoors. During this time, they observe things and try to make meanings of their own. They look at things far and near. There is a high degree of self teaching that happens. And you will see that often a certain experience will either draw them closer or away from an object. Irrespective of how hard you may try to change their mind, they will clearly indicate their decision.
Stopping children from being in nature stunts their perceptive and expressive abilities. Likewise, spending time in nature helps develop their perceptual and reasoning skills and thereby enhances their information processing skills. Interpretation, extrapolation is all the richer and expanded forms of information processing, each of which get augmented due to the time spent observing the surroundings.
These young kids also need to have ample opportunities to play freely without adult intervention. Interacting with the peer group creates a desire to participate and communicate effectively, thereby initiating the need to speak and socialize. Language development thus is the derived outcome. Playing with the peers also brings a positive development in their social skills.
So while they are themselves trying to figure things out, it is important that we adults who are the caretakers of these young and budding future adults, understand the ‘work in progress’ and ensure that we do not hamper the process in any way.
What is notable is that every bit of what children learn, comes from what they do. So learning is seated in the ‘doing’. So bring your kids out of the house, let them explore the world around them, let them get dirty, let them play, for all of this actually and truly leads to the cognitive evolving of the child, allowing them to grow into an adult with sophisticated thinking.
But what is primarily important is that we ensure that while we take care of the above aspects, we are addressing all the nutritional needs of the child. A healthy brain development is key to optimal benefit of all the learning that the child can attain. The wholesome nurturing of the child is therefore dependent on the healthy combination of right nutrition along with right exposure as each is enhanced by the other. So we need to watch out for nutritional gaps in our child’s diet and support this need of pre-schoolers by way of special nutrition-based health drinks that address these needs. And then step back and enjoy the growing years of your child.
So here’s wishing ‘Happy Nurturing’ to all you moms!!