It might seem like your baby spends all of their time eating, sleeping, and demanding a diaper change, but babies are incredible learners. In reality, babies learn a stunning amount of information long before their parents even realize it.
As many parents and educators are starting to understand, education is more than just finding the right preschool. Learning begins at birth.
Here’s a closer look at what babies learn, why it’s so important to provide a strong learning environment, and how parents and caregivers can be the first teacher their baby needs for future success in school.
Why is Infant Development So Important?
Early childhood development, especially infant development, is incredibly important for a child’s future success.
In their first year, babies learn new things almost every day—many of them indicated by development milestones, such as:
- Focusing vision
For example, one of the first things babies learn is how to eat. All newborns have a sucking reflex, but they have to be taught how to breastfeed, which is why nurses teach mothers how to do this in the hospital. Over time, babies learn how to do things by exposure, such as knowing how to mold their bodies to their parents’ arms or crying to get their parents’ attention for food or a diaper change.
In every respect, a baby’s parents or caregivers are their earliest teachers. The way that you cuddle, hold, talk to, and play with your baby teaches them how to interact with the world and form attachments.
Does Learning Start at Birth?
So the question is, when does learning begin? Does it start at birth? Does it start once a baby is old enough to stay awake for extended periods? Does it start in the womb?
According to research, the answer might just be all of the above. Babies learn different things at different periods of their lives.
Research on Prenatal Learning
The adult human brain has over 100 billion neurons, and most of these neurons are formed during a baby’s first five months in the womb. Furthermore, research has consistently shown that that period from birth to age eight (particularly birth to age three) is crucial for a baby’s brain development.
After all, while most neurons are formed in the womb, a baby has an astonishingly rapid pace of brain development. At birth, the brain weighs 25% of its adult weight. By age one, it’s up to 50%. By age two, it’s up to 75%, and by age three, it’s at 90%. In other words, by age three, a healthy baby will have most of their adult neurons, each connected to nearly 5,000 others. In fact, babies have more synaptic connections than their parents.
And even before they’re born, research suggests that babies are already learning.
For example, sensory and brain mechanisms for hearing are developed by 30 gestational weeks, and a mother’s vowels are the loudest sounds for a fetus to lock onto. One study showed that unborn babies are already listening to their mothers talk during the last 10 weeks of pregnancy, and babies that are mere hours old are able to distinguish sounds in their native language from a foreign language. In other words, babies are already primed to learn language at birth.
Research on Post-Birth Learning
Once babies are born, they soak up new information like a dry sponge—even if it doesn’t appear that way. In fact, research has shown that even in infancy, babies can grasp certain concepts that we previously ascribed to older children, such as:
- Theory of mind
- Theory of numbers
- Cause-and-effect inferences
- Basic statistical probability
- Sensitivity to teaching cues
For example, when they encounter an unfamiliar person, one-year-olds focus on their mother’s expression to interpret if the unknown person is dangerous or benign. Or, when babies see an object in front of a screen and see another object placed behind a screen, they are surprised if the screen lowers and nothing is there.
How Do Babies Learn?
How is it that babies are such talented learners? Where do they learn it all from?
Much like their older peers, babies learn directly from their teachers—their parents and caregivers.
For example, babies quickly establish who their caregivers are, i.e. the person who feeds them, changes them, plays with them, and takes care of them. Because they recognize this person as safe, as their person, they turn to them for various cues. For example, a baby can distinguish between their parents’ voices and the voices of strangers. They like looking at their parents’ faces, and they turn to their parents’ faces to understand what to do.
Preparing Your Home for Education at Birth
Because babies rely on their parents and caregivers to learn, it’s essential to make your home as strong a learning environment as possible.
For example, when a baby is not yet born, eating a healthy diet is essential to brain development. So is reading to your baby, talking to them, singing to them, and playing music.
Once a baby is born, all the good habits you started before birth can translate into a healthy, engaging learning environment. Simple toys, mobiles, music, and stories all encourage your baby to engage and learn, but so do simple activities like talking to a newborn. Babies learn how to distinguish words by listening to their parents, so while you may be tempted to do a sing-song voice, talking to them normally will help them distinguish words and build a vocabulary.
The Education Your Child Needs to Thrive
In short, babies learn an astonishing amount of information even before they’re born. And once they’re ready to start learning, you need a school that will help them build curiosity and guide them in their natural quest for knowledge.
Shipra Montessori School of Infants is more than just a daycare. We provide gentle guidance to foster a baby’s innate curiosity and nurture lifelong learning. If you’re ready for early child care that nourishes your child, schedule a tour today.