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Encourage learning in early years

Experts explain why talking to your baby on a regular basis is helping his or her little brain develop.

Albert Einstein meet your match — the human baby. When it comes to learning, making new connections and literally seeing things with a fresh set of eyes, infants have amazing capacities. But what they need to take advantage of those innate talents is adults who are willing to talk, sing, laugh, cuddle and play with them.

That’s the message in a new ad campaign and website spearheaded by the Lucie and André Chagnon Foundation. Created in 2000, the Foundation works to improve the health of children and families. This year’s campaign focuses on helping parents see that they are truly their child’s first and most important teacher.

Julie Brousseau, a child psychologist who has worked on the campaign, says too many parents think children learn most in the period leading up to kindergarten, roughly from ages 3 to 5. While those years are important, the foundations for children’s language, math and social skills are all built in the period between birth to age 3. And they learn best when an adult interacts with them. You don’t need flash cards, videos or fancy toys; just a willingness to talk about and explain the world around you.

“In the first year of life, a baby’s brain is at its peak for learning,” Brousseau says. “When you play peek-a-boo, a baby is learning about surprise, that someone can appear and disappear, and about emotions (laughing and smiling).”

Developing math skills can be as simple as showing your baby how one cup is bigger than another or chanting a nursery rhyme “One, two, buckle my shoe,” which shows little ones the notion of sequence (and rhymes — great for building language skills).

Brousseau notes that recent research has found that by age 2, little ones can understand concepts like big and small, more and less, which is a great foundation for when they start formal math classes in school.

The campaign has a reassuring side too — parents don’t need special tools or classes to help their child. “You could even read your tax return to a baby and he would be interested,” jokes Brousseau, because infants are hard-wired to listen to the adults around them.

She suggests talking to your child as you are folding laundry, pointing out the names for shirts and pants and their various colours. And parents should interact with their child as they go about their daily routine whether it be when you are giving your baby a bath or getting supper ready. Your baby may just stare or chew his hand, but Brousseau wants parents to know that learning is taking place. “Your child is absorbing everything.”

For more information on a child’s development from newborn to age 3, visit www.helpthemgrow.com. You can view the English ad, which has run on local television stations as well as tips for interacting with your infant. Information in French is available at www.biengrandir.com.

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