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Making Baby Genius

No More Mozart?

The Right Time to Read

The best way for an infant to learn cause and effect, he says, is not for her to press a button on a toy but for her to smile at her mother and have her mother smile back. At age 2, when a child's fantasy life is developing, she needs a lot of "floor time" sharing fantasy play with her parents.

This sounds great, but I had one nagging question. I'd learned to read before kindergarten and have always loved reading: Should I be teaching my kids how to read when they're 4?

Probably not, says Ellen Winner, PhD, author of Gifted Children: Myths and Realities. If kids teach themselves to read, that's great, says Winner, a professor of psychology at Boston College.

"If you push your kid and train your kid to read early, there's no evidence it's going to change your kid's intelligence level," she says. "It's the American idea of getting there faster. Kids get there on their own steam. There's no need to get there early." Although there haven't been rigorous studies of the effect of pushing a child to read early, Winner says anecdotal evidence suggests it is damaging. "There are case studies of kids who are really turned off by this and become bitter and resentful," she says. "You can make children feel they've got to live up to something they can't live up to and that you love their performance rather than their selves."

In fact, Greenspan's ideas have a lot to do with not rushing children's development -- but not holding them back, either. "If I have one message, it's for parents to give more and expect more," he says. "It's when we expect without giving or give without expecting that children become either angry and resistant or spoiled and passive."

Together Time Is Teaching Time

The No.1 way to give to children is to spend time with them, he says. "We can't have both parents working until 8 at night." He suggests the four-thirds approach: both parents work two-thirds time, or one parent works full time and the other works one-third time. Interestingly, he doesn't advocate having one parent stay at home. "Sharing the care is optimal," he says.

For single parents, he suggests they look long and hard to find an excellent caregiver or child care situation. "We have to improve child care in this country." Excellent caregivers can provide many of the benefits parents provide by spending time with their children.

Preschool and school-age children need an adult present when they come home from school, he says. And families with children in high school need regular time together from 6 p.m. through the evening.

As for playing Mozart concertos to a baby, Greenspan says it won't hurt but won't help much either. The so-called Mozart effect was launched by a study published in Nature in 1993 by Gordon Shaw, a neurobiologist at the University of California at Irvine, and Frances Rauscher, now a psychologist at the University of Wisconsin at Oshkosh, who conducted their research on college students. He reported that the increase in performance on spatial imagery lasted for only a few minutes, and attempts to reproduce the results failed in a study published in the July 1999 issue of the journal Psychological Science.

But dancing with your baby to Mozart, singing, tapping out rhythmic beats, smiling at each other: That's real learning, says Greenspan.

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