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Health & Baby

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Making Baby Genius

No More Mozart?
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Gary D. Vogin, MD

Oct. 10, 2001 -- Want to boost your baby's brainpower? When preschool interviews loomed for my toddler twins, I got to thinking about that "Mozart for Babies" CD. We'd played it twice and abandoned it when it got on everyone's nerves. The "Learn Your Colors" flash cards met a similar fate: The kids simply scattered them on the floor.

But with academic competition right around the corner, I wondered now if we'd revved up our babies' brainpower enough. Had we missed learning opportunities during the much-talked-about birth-to-3 age period?

New research has given parents a flood of information on how the brains of infants, babies, and toddlers develop, and the marketplace has responded with a slew of products that promise to give your child a leading edge. But this information seems only to have added to the confusion about how to best stimulate young children intellectually.

A Window for Learning

Thanks to science, we know that the auditory cortex -- the part of the brain that processes sound -- develops early, which is why it's easier to learn music and foreign languages before age 12. But what's the best way to teach young children music and language? Should I be waving Spanish flash cards at my toddlers?

Not at all, says noted child psychiatrist Stanley Greenspan, MD, co-author, with T. Berry Brazelton, MD, of The Irreducible Needs of Children. Instead of worrying about filling your baby's brain with information, concentrate on building a nurturing relationship, he says. Crucial early childhood learning -- everything from social skills and emotions to how to count to 10 -- occurs in the context of the parent-child relationship.

"What we've learned from new brain research is that kids need a lot more interaction than we thought before," Greenspan tells WebMD. "Flash cards are not very good. Anything that is memory-based is not very good. Things that are learned by doing and interacting are better."

So, being a sensitive, involved parent is more important for a child's development than scheduling vocabulary lessons. This was reassuring news, as far as I was concerned. The idea that learning takes place in the context of relationships made sense, too. When I played Spanish language tapes in the car, hoping the kids would pick up some phrases, they just sat in their car seats staring into space. But when their adored baby-sitter spoke to them in Spanish as she playfully changed their clothes, the kids laughed and smiled and seemed to be soaking up every word.

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