WOMEN & WELLNESS What can parents do to make early learning fun and fruitful for toddlers?

V aidehi is enthralled by her 18-month-old daughter. Bright and cheerful, the little one is curious about everything and seems to want to explore the world. But Vaidehi worries sometimes . Are she and her husband good parents? Are they helping her expand her brain capacity? What can they do to make her early learning exciting and fruitful so that she can reach her intellectual potential?

The adventurous toddler

Toddlers under two are intrepid explorers and fearlessly set out to understand their surroundings. Their social and physical environment is something they strive to know and they utilise all their senses to comprehend it. They are so unafraid that parents have to constantly jump in to keep them from harm. As they cross two, toddlers make every effort to interact verbally with their parents and other family members. Their capacity for speech increases and they also learn their own power to manipulate with smiles and if that fails, wailing and tears.

All children do not follow the same speech development patterns. Some toddlers start speaking clearly even before they are two, whereas others take their own sweet time to articulate words. Talking to them clearly in adult speech patterns instead of ‘baby talk' hastens their grasp of language. When babies make their first efforts at speaking, they are actually trying to develop their ability to connect with the world. Appropriate responses to early babbling helps children progress faster in their speech patterns. In one experiment, a group of mothers reacted immediately with big smiles and loving pats when their babies cooed or babbled. The other group of parents was also told to smile at their kids, but randomly, unconnected to the babies' sounds. Interestingly, the babies who received immediate feedback jabbered more and advanced quicker than those whose parents did not respond appropriately.

Does early learning help toddlers achieve and enhance their intellectual potential? “Very definitely,” says Sharanya Anil Bajaj, Cognitive Developmental Specialist. “At birth, the brain weighs 25 per cent of its adult weight; by age one, 50 per cent; by age two, 75 per cent; and by age three, 90 per cent. Early experiences that are nurturing and active, actually thicken the cortex of an infant's brain, creating a brain with more extensive and sophisticated neuron structures that later determine intelligence and behaviour.” She strongly feels that playing, music, art and other project-based activities using local materials along with opportunities for speaking, listening and expressing themselves make children more outgoing and school-ready.

What can you do as a parent?

Social interaction with other toddlers at this stage helps them become better adjusted and teaches them social skills. Babies are born with an innate sense of empathy. A toddler will try to help another child who is crying or will start crying as a show of empathy. Arranging with your friends to have play dates for kids of similar ages helps toddlers learn social skills.

Children of overprotective parents, often remain shy and anxious as adults. Toddlers born to confident and sensitive parents who gently help them make social contact and coax them out of their shells can often overcome early awkwardness. Playing, especially constructive play like building blocks helps build their cognitive, sensory, physical and motor skills. Reading to them and looking at picture books stimulates their intellectual curiosity and increases their vocabulary. Reading to a toddler is something that cannot be overemphasised — it is the single most important thing you can do for your child.

Television: bane or boon?

In the past month, the American Academy of Paediatrics has categorically stated that there are no educational or developmental benefits for television as far as toddlers are concerned. In fact, they emphasise that exposing toddlers to television has potential negative health and developmental effects. What is more worrying is the effect of television watching by parents when toddlers are around. So turn off that television and take your child for a walk, take out a book and read to your child or indulge in constructive play.


The author is an obstetrician and gynaecologist practising in Chennai and has written the book 'Passport to a Healthy Pregnancy'.