Category Archives: Scientific Edge

The benefits of kangaroo care for premature babies

According to the World Health Organization, more than 15 million premature babies are born each year. Premature refers to a baby born before 37 weeks of gestation. The rate tends to increase in low-income countries. According to the Center for the Control and Prevention of Diseases, babies who are born preterm are at increased risk of respiratory problems, intellectual disability, among others. Many of these babies’ lives are at risk due to lack of intervention, or resources and intensive care. It has been found that maintaining skin to skin contact with their parents for several hours a day helps these at-risk babies.

Kangaroo care is a method that involves the mother holding her baby in diapers, while maintaining skin to skin contact. A blanket is used to cover the baby’s back and keep him warm. It’s called kangaroo care because it simulates how kangaroos carry their babies in their pouch. Several studies have found that kangaroo care promotes healthy development of premature babies, and can even save the lives of at-risk babies. Continue reading

Sparking learning beyond school grounds!

Summer vacations are over, and children who did not receive access to enriching learning opportunities are falling behind those children who did. These skills can’t be regained once they begin their school year and this effect is only repeated year after year – adding to the already existing educational disparities among individuals of different socioeconomic groups, which can be observed as early as 18 months of age.

There are evident efforts to fix this and most efforts focus on improving K-12 educational systems. However, kids only spend around 20% of their time inside their classrooms, so a broader range of solutions is required.

A study was published last year regarding an intervention designed to support kid’s language skills. This intervention aimed at sparking parent-child interactions in places that families are naturally likely to visit, like the supermarket. They posted signs with “question for your child” in grocery stores serving low and middle socioeconomic neighborhoods that aimed to encourage dialogues between children and their caregivers. These signs prompted more and higher quality talk between adults and children under the age of 8 years old. In front of the milk section for example, you might see, “I come from a cow. Can you find something else that comes from a cow?” Researchers tested how these signs affected the interactions – the results? Both the amount and the quality of the conversations between adults and children increased significantly –three times more! Continue reading

In Defense of Play

What characterizes play and makes it so special? Play is fun – babies giggle contagiously over peekaboo, kids enjoy playing hide and seek. Play is voluntary – it is something that we naturally enjoy doing and is not instructed to us. Play has a special structure, it has a pattern of repetition and variation. Family therapist Lawrence J. Cohen uses peekaboo as an example of this in his book Playful Parenting; during peekaboo, the baby can lose the connection and regain it. You can actually experiment with the time it takes to say peekaboo, from half a second, to two or three. You can find exactly the length of time that brings the most giggles. Too short and there is no mystery, too long and it gets scary – there is the essence of human connection and disconnection and reconnection. The gift of play is the way it teaches us to deal with the unexpected.

What are the various benefits of play? Continue reading

The value of FaceTime: Do toddlers learn and bond with people over video chat?

Across the globe, people use tools like FaceTime and Skype to connect with family and friends. What about our children? Do they understand and grow from these on-screen interactions with loved ones?

A team of researchers from Lafayette College, led by Professor Lauren J. Myers, Ph.D., studied 1- to 2- year olds to find out what they got out of these FaceTime interactions, looking to discover if they form relationships and learn from people via video chat. In the study, 60 children under 2 years old were divided into two groups. Each group experienced one week of either real-time video chat interactions or pre-recorded videos of novel words, actions and patterns.

Researchers found that children paid attention and responded to both people in the video, but only responded in sync with the partner in the interactive video chat (such as imitating a clap after the person in the video did).  Likewise – after one week of video chatting, children in the live condition learned social and cognitive information. For example, they preferred and recognized someone they had talked with through video-chat and they learned new words and patterns. Continue reading

Background noise may hinder a toddler’s ability to learn new words

Does your toddler find it hard to learn new words? Have you observed the environment he is exposed to when he learns? A new study found that too much background noise (TV, people talking or traffic blast) at home or school can make it difficult for toddlers to learn new words.

 

“Learning words is an important skill that provides a foundation for children’s ability to achieve academically,” said Brianna McMillan, a doctoral student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and lead author of the study.

 

The study, published in the journal Child Development, was led by researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. It consisted of three experiments in which 106 children from 22 to 30 months took part in. In the study, the toddlers were taught names of unfamiliar objects and then tested on their ability to recognize the objects when they were labeled. In order to understand how different levels of background noise affected the toddlers’ ability to learn, the team repeated the experiment with different amounts of background noise.

 

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Head-mounted cameras enable psychologists to track how the movement of caregivers' eyes affect infants' attention. (Chen Yu)

Baby’s attention span suffers when parents are distracted during playtime

*Photo by: Chen Yu

Do your eyes frequently wander off while playing with your baby? If you do, it’s time to put the smartphone or any other distractions away when you are in the playroom. Locking eyes with your little one and the toys you are both playing with during playtime can actually benefit his or her cognitive development a lot, specifically his or her attention span. Sustained attention is important because it’s a strong indicator of future success in areas such as language acquisition, problem-solving, and other key cognitive milestones. Continue reading

Key aspects that influence your child’s intelligence

Genes and environment each contribute 50% to a child’s intellectual development. This gives parents some room to step in and boost their child’s intelligence! When is the best time to start cultivating your child’s intelligence? Early on is optimal, when the brain is malleable and while you still exert the deciding influence over your child’s environment. Curiosity, persistence, motivation, and attention all can be taught early on. Evolution seems to have already favored these early years – your child is more receptive to your teaching due to his/her high dependence on you for their physical and emotional needs. Researchers have managed to identify several specific aspects of children’s environment that will influence intellectual development. Here are some steps parents can take to improve their child’s brain development and cognitive potential!

1. Prenatal influences: Of all environmental influences on a child’s intelligence, prenatal experience is perhaps the most potent. A mother’s health, nutrition, environmental exposure, and emotional well-being all influence the development of a fetal brain. High levels of stress hormones negatively interfere with optimal brain development by acting directly and indirectly on both the developing neurons and altering the course of pregnancy. If you are pregnant or know someone who is pregnant, suggest a simpler schedule, regular exercise, and the use of relaxation or other methods to maintain stress levels down. Continue reading

Baby signing: Communication through gestures

If you have been paying close attention to your baby, you have probably noticed that before he can even talk he has been trying to communicate with you. Crying, pointing, smiling and laughing are all forms of communication and although at first it can be a guessing game, with time and effort you can identify what your little one means to say.

If you wish to understand your baby’s needs and desires with greater ease you could try a personalized version of baby sign language.

What is baby sign language?

Baby sign language is a communication tool that seeks to motivate babies to communicate with gestures. It works by using manual signing that allows babies to communicate wants and even emotions before they can talk.

This form of communication decreases frustration, promotes language development, and helps increase the parent-child bond. The evidence regarding these claims is still limited but there has been lots of praise and positive anecdotes from parents and professionals who use this tool.

Complementing language with gestures and signing might diminish the frustration experienced by children who know what they want but still do not have the verbal skills to express themselves. Signing with babies is a promising and interesting field for research. Preliminary findings have identified that perhaps being attuned to their little one’s gestures motivates parents to be more mindful of their baby’s unique forms of communication leading to a decrease in miscommunication and therefore supports a healthy attachment.

So how do you begin?

If you want to try baby sign language you can begin at home with these easy steps. Continue reading

Why Kids Thrive through Parent Intervention

We are used to reading different studies and articles on the best way to parent a child. However, there is actually very little evidence that suggests that a particular parenting style is optimal.  So, what is the the key to enhance a child’s chances for success?

The experiences in the first two years of life have the power to alter a child’s future. This window of opportunity is critical. There are several things that can be done to enhance a child’s chances for success – high quality education, motivating teachers, opportunities, access to good mental health services, etc.

A parenting strategy is not going to define a child’s future. Rather, learning about your baby’s psychological development has the potential to improve parenting skills. The key is reaching a higher audience so parents all over the world can engage in effective quality interactions. Media technology is an effective way to deliver information on a grand scale and greatly intervene in people’s lives. Continue reading

Laugh out loud: Encouraging your little one’s sense of humor

Laughter is the best medicine. – proverb

Laughter and smiles are one of the most basic human behaviors. Babies smile within hours of being born in response to a warm sensation or a sweet smell, but laughter takes a bit more time to develop as it’s mechanisms are more complex.

As you probably already discovered, babies and toddlers learn a lot through imitation, and the development of a sense of humor is no different. Research has shown that a sense of humor is nurtured at home and each silly event helps foster this wonderful trait.

The benefits of having a sense of humor include the development of a healthy self-esteem, empathy, and friendships; and it helps one laugh at themselves and become accepting of imperfections. Not only that, but research has shown that people with a sense of humor are happier and more optimistic, can handle differences and adversities well, experience less stress, and are at a lower risk for depression. What’s more, experts have identified that a robust sense of humor is a natural immune system booster.

So what can you do to develop your little one’s sense of humor? Continue reading