I've seen these questions so many times that I've stopped counting. Before you snicker, I can see how a well-meaning parent gets the urge to post this question. Your baby does a puzzle or speaks a little early, a friend or loving grandparent comments, "how clever," and brochures start arriving in the mail for all the educational opportunities you could be enjoying with your baby and before you can say, "Suzuki," you start to panic...
What if my baby is a genius and I am wasting her potential?
Breathe. My answer is always that whether or not your child eventually shows great academic talents, all babies benefit from the same brain-boosting, and fun, play. So, before collecting those Ivy League applications, let's begin with a few baby steps that will be enjoyable for you and your child:
- Read to your child: This is one of the most important ways to prepare your child for a lifelong love of learning. Start immediately, read every day, and make reading a special time with your child.
- Follow your child's lead: When my daughter was almost two, she suddenly became obsessed with birds. So we read her books about birds, went on nature hikes, played bird calls, fed the birds, pretended to fly like birds... Anything bird-related was a joy for her so we just fed that interest.
- Look locally: Many local libraries and bookstores have free programs for children. You can also contact local farms, aquariums, and museums to find out about events that might interest your child.
- Have a multi-sensory experience: As adults, it is easy to forget what a wonder the world is. Don't forget to explore the sights, smells, tactile sensations, sounds, and tastes. There is a reason why children's museums are hands-on and kids like those touch-and-feel books.
- Learn a new language: Studies show that babies brains are ripe for hearing and processing new sounds. If someone in your household speaks another language, encourage him to speak that with your baby. Reading books or playing music is another good introduction to languages. Learning a second language increases the brain's flexibility and can be a great way to connect with another culture or the family's heritage.
- Make music: Music is very similar to a language and can be introduced to babies in a very playful way. Banging on pots and pans helps your baby find her own rhythm.
You will notice that all these tips involve play. Play is the way young children learn. A few well chosen toys can enhance play. Look for toys that are open-ended and encourage your child to explore, both with adults and independently.
Engage with your children and enjoy their delight because all of our children are gifts.