Environment Shapes Intelligence
heard that most of a person's brain growth occurs in babyhood. So what should I
be doing to foster my baby's mental development, now and on down the road?
first two years of life, the human brain grows from about 330 grams to 1,250
grams and is already about 90% of its adult size. What can really contribute to
the growth of the dendrites and glial cells within that brain - the connections
that brain is forming for thinking power - is to have a stimulating
misunderstand - that doesn't mean that it's wise to try to force an amazingly
stimulating environment on a baby, or jump-start formal schooling or
memorization drills and so forth. Those are hazardous and should never be a
part of a parent's course of action.
just as "you are what you eat," a young child's mind will become what that
young child has been doing. Being passive, quiet and neglected will not result
in an actively exploring, questioning, talkative child, although of course
there is a huge continuum of personality and temperament in the world. But what
you can do is improve that passive, quiet child's environment to stimulate some
of the physical and mental activity that will build the brain and keep options
open for strong learning patterns.
are two things a baby needs in particular: companionship and playthings. Ideally,
there will be an adult "coaching" the child with vocabulary words, questions
and directions during playtime, at least part of the time, since that stretches
the child's thinking and increases the possibilities and options of the play
around other people and interacting with them is what stimulates curiosity and
making connections of all kinds. Having a lot of safe, interesting and colorful
items to manipulate and experiment with does the same thing. This is why
animals in the wild have bigger, heavier brains than the same species of animal
raised in a cage. It is why it was so horrible to find Romanian orphans who had
never been out of their cribs.
course, any American home is going to be much, much better than a boring crib
in an orphanage. Keep in mind that watching something is never, ever as good as
actually doing it yourself. Forget TV as a learning tool; it just doesn't happen.
But a young child with balls and blocks, car-cars and books, pans to bang on
and sand to dig in, is a child who is going to be developing some good neuron
Avoid toys that are too literal - that can only
be used in one way. Cardboard blocks that can be used to build a car or a house
are better than a large plastic car or a large plastic house, for example. A
banana can be a phone and the dog can be a reindeer. Look for versatility.
Store-bought costumes aren't as good as
providing lengths of fabric, scraps of trims, feather boas and other textures
and colors that can be fashioned by the child into the desired costume.
It's the same thing with art supplies. Think
Pla-Dough: the child decides what it will "be" that day. Give your child pencils,
markers, paints, glue, craft supplies and so forth, but minimize the "canned"
arts and crafts activities. Coloring books are great for scribbling and
coloring practice, which builds eye-hand coordination, but plain paper is great
for that, too.
The more board games and card games you play
with your child, the better your child will tend to be at math. It has to do
with noticing the sequences of things, counting the number of squares to move
the marker, working with the dice, taking turns, and so forth.
Puppets and dramas are much better teachers of
behavior than outright instruction.
Whenever you're with your child playing, you
should be asking questions: "How did that feel? Sound? Taste?"
Avoid electronics and expensive gizmos. People
are endlessly fascinating! Play dates with other young children are great.
excellent information on brain growth and how parents can provide the optimal
environment for it in the book Your
Child's Growing Mind: Brain Development and Learning From Birth to Adolescence
by Jane M. Healy.