Walk baby walk, talk baby talk

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Walking baby

Walking baby


Does walking help talking? Do motor skills help babies to engage in social interactions more? Baby brain during development is a mystery that scientists try to solve everyday. According to the results of a recent research reported by BPS research digest,

When an infant starts walking, this important achievement is more than just a milestone in motor control. According to Melissa Clearfield, the child’s newfound locomotor skill arrives hand-in-hand with a raft of other changes in social behaviour and maturity. This is an unfolding, interactive process of development that before now has been little explored by psychologists.

Irrespective of age, Clearfield found that infants gestured far more during their first walk session compared with their last crawl session, and that they interacted with their mothers more, and their toys less, during their first walk session compared with both their last crawl session and their second walk session.

The message is that the same developmental processes that lead an infant to take its first steps, also seem to drive changes in their social behaviour. Importantly, the baby walker study showed this isn’t simply because of different opportunities afforded by being in an upright position. ‘Under this explanation,’ Clearfield concluded, ‘processes such as perception, attention, memory, cognition, and social behaviours all shift to accommodate infants’ new mode of moving through the world, and each process affects and is affected by the changes in the other processes. From this dynamic view, learning to walk becomes much more than simply a motor milestone; instead, it becomes the core of system-wide changes across many developing domains.’

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Does too much education at an early age backfire?

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Sometimes I come across entries related to parenting and education in the least expected places. Statistician Andrew Gelman’s blog is one of those places where I normally expect to read technical analyses related to economics, politics as well as musings about state-of-the-art in statistical research. Thanks to him I discovered Alison Gopnik‘s short article titled “Why Preschool Shouldn’t Be Like School“.

According to Gopnik:

Ours is an age of pedagogy. Anxious parents instruct their children more and more, at younger and younger ages, until they’re reading books to babies in the womb. They pressure teachers to make kindergartens and nurseries more like schools. So does the law—the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act explicitly urged more direct instruction in federally funded preschools.

There are skeptics, of course, including some parents, many preschool teachers, and even a few policy-makers. Shouldn’t very young children be allowed to explore, inquire, play, and discover, they ask? Perhaps direct instruction can help children learn specific facts and skills, but what about curiosity and creativity—abilities that are even more important for learning in the long run? Two forthcoming studies in the journal Cognition—one from a lab at MIT and one from my lab at UC-Berkeley—suggest that the doubters are on to something. While learning from a teacher may help children get to a specific answer more quickly, it also makes them less likely to discover new information about a problem and to create a new and unexpected solution.

So maybe the gist of the article is that very young children don’t need more education but just better education, and that ‘better’ means simply creating the conditions in which children try to satisfy their curiosity by themselves. This reminds me the following quote from an old issue of American Scientist:

The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not “Eureka” but “That’s funny…”

—Isaac Asimov (1920–1992)

Let’s help our children discover this world and say “That’s funny…” for a long time.

Fatherhood: Evolution and Human Paternal Behavior (Are you ready to start a Ph.D. in the science of fatherhood?)

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Fatherhood: Evolution and Human Paternal Behavior

Fatherhood: Evolution and Human Paternal Behavior

As an expectant father I read ‘Fatherhood: Evolution and Human Paternal Behavior‘ hoping to learn more about what it means to be a father. This is definitely not one of the popular books which assumes the role of an experienced teacher / coach and tell you how to be a good father, what to care about, how to raise your child, how to support your wife etc. So if you are looking for friendly advice with occasional humor, lots of personal anecdotes with medical advice scattered in between you’d better look at other popular books (such as The Expectant Father: Facts, Tips, and Advice for Dads-to-Be (New Father Series)). However if you are interested in what exists (in contrast to what should) in the world of fatherhood, then this is probably the best resource as of now. The authors describe many aspects related to fatherhood and they provide lots of examples and data from various cultures as well as from our genetic relatives such as orangutans, chimpanzees, bonobos and birds. You’ll find many scientific explanations of what fathers in various cultures do, and why they do it, especially in terms of evolutionary mechanisms. I’m glad that the authors did not fail to strike a good balance between scientific writing and popular one; they did not assume that I was an expert in anthropology or fatherhood studies but nevertheless expected attention and careful reading from me (which I happily did for most of the chapters). Personally I found the last few chapters very informative in which they talk about how caring for his baby changes the brain of a father, affects the hormonal system and creates both benefits and risks for health. Therein lies some important insights for the curious reader / father, especially related to cross-cultural variations in short-term and long-term affects of fatherhood. I think this book will be an important reference in my library to which I’ll return as I grow old as a father. (And it already started to help me understand the behaviors of some fathers that I observe in my social circle which I find to be another positive point for the book.)

My first book before the adventure starts: The Expectant Father: Facts, Tips, and Advice for Dads-to-Be

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The Expectant Father: Facts, Tips, and Advice for Dads-to-Be

The Expectant Father: Facts, Tips, and Advice for Dads-to-Be


I’m an expectant father and our baby is yet to come so maybe I should have written this review some 6 months later. But regardless of what will happen in the future I had a lot of fun reading this book and took lots of notes for further reading and exploration into the topic. This book made me realize how ignorant I had been on the topic of pregnancy and birth, and I’m thankful to the author for writing in a “man-to-man-talk” style. The positive effects of the book can also be seen by listening to my wife’s remarks; she became happier when I started to make much more educated comments about her and baby’s situation and she was also excited to learn some more information that I gleaned from the book which I happily shared. I’m sure I’ll need to learn much more about the process of having a first child and most of it will come from first-hand experience but it is always comforting to get some high quality information from a good resource such as this book. It was also assuring that the authors had the help of a medical doctor for health advice and suggestions.

The linguistic genius of babies: a human touch

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In her short TED talk, Patricia Kuhl shares astonishing findings about how babies learn one language over another — by listening to the humans around them and “taking statistics” on the sounds they need to know. Clever lab experiments (and brain scans) show how 6-month-old babies use sophisticated reasoning to understand their world:

Linguistic genius of babies

Linguistic genius of babies

The birth of a word: How an infant learns language

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MIT researcher Deb Roy wanted to understand how his infant son learned language — so he wired up his house with videocameras to catch every moment (with exceptions) of his son’s life, then parsed 90,000 hours of home video to watch “gaaaa” slowly turn into “water.” Astonishing, data-rich research with deep implications for how we learn. His TED talk is a tour de force of research in language acquisiton in children:

Deb Roy: The birth of a word

Deb Roy: The birth of a word

Montessori method: how to educate your children the Google way

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I have recently learned an interesting topic related to raising children: Montessori method:

Children working on the phonogram moveable alphabet

Children working on the phonogram moveable alphabet

The Montessori method is an educating approach for children based on the research and experiences of Italian physician and educator Maria Montessori (1870 – 1952). It arose in the process of her experimental observation of young children given freedom in an environment, leading her to believe by 1907 that she had discovered “the child’s true normal nature.” Based on her observations, she created an environment prepared with materials designed for their self-directed learning activity. The method itself aims to duplicate this experimental observation of children to bring about, sustain and support their true natural way of being.

Applying this method involves the teacher in viewing the child as having an inner natural guidance for his or her own perfect self-directed development. The teacher’s role of observation sometimes includes experimental interactions with children, commonly referred to as “lessons,” to resolve misbehavior or to show how to use the various self-teaching materials that are provided in the environment for the children’s free use.

The method is primarily applied with young children (2.5 – 6), as this was the initial age with which Dr. Montessori worked. Her philosophy was based on certain characteristic seen in this age group. The method is also utilized successfully for ages 0-3 and 6-9, 9-12, 12-15 and 15-18, though the majority of children learning through this method are in the 3-6 range.

One of the interesting facts is that Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin attended to schools that used the Montessori method:
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