All posts by Marianna

Express yourself

Whether your baby is one month old, one year old, or 3 years old you’ve probably noticed how he takes any chance to communicate with you and have a say on what’s going on around him. Recent studies have been placing more and more weight on children’s right to be heard about matters that affect them. It is through their participation on daily matters that their self-esteem is enhanced, overall capacities are promoted, their sense of autonomy and independence is heightened, and they work on their social competence and resilience.

These studies suggest that, sometimes, we underestimate children’s capacity for participation; kids aren’t passive recipients for care and protection. Every day there is more and more evidence suggesting that from a very early age they are (1) experts in their own lives and are capable of communicating their unique point of view on any given experience, (2) they’re skillful communicators with a wide range of “languages” to articulate their views, (3) they’re active agents with the power to influence and manipulate the world around them, and (4) they’re meaning-makers capable of constructing/interpreting meanings in their lives.

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Are you talking to me?

New research from MIT supports the idea that to foster children’s development, specifically their language development, parents don’t just need to talk to their kids, they should talk with them (meaning back-and-forth exchanges).

“What we found is, the more often parents engaged in back-and-forth conversation with their child, the stronger was the brain response in the front of the brain to language.” (Gabrieli, 2018)

In this case, a stronger brain response is a reflection of a more profound understanding and engagement with language. So, it’s not just the number of words your baby hears, it’s the interactions and twists and turns in the conversation that matter. A rich verbal environment is made up of exactly that, resulting in greater language and cognitive outcomes later on.

In this MIT study, using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), they discovered that children who experienced more conversations had more brain activity while they listened to stories. Their Broca’s area, which is a region in the frontal lobe of the brain that is involved in language processing, was more engaged. In this study, what was highlighted was the importance of the language base in the relationship between parents and kids. The streaming of a tape or an endless cartoon show will not have the same benefits than the day to day interactions between a baby and a loved one.

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The influence of attention and caregiver-input on language development

Ask any psychologist what is one of the very first things they learn at school and, undoubtedly, the answer will always be genes vs. environment. We already know that environment and context play a huge role in our children’s development, so today we’ll explore just how big of a role it plays in language acquisition.

By environment, in this article, we’ll include specifically attentional abilities, a.k.a the ability your baby has to hold his attention to certain stimuli, and the quality of the input he is receiving (complexity and variability of the interactions).

To understand how attentional abilities play a role, we must understand the evolution of mother-baby interactions during the first year of life (dads, this includes you too!). Up until your baby is 5 months old, interactions are considered as “dyadic”; meaning face-to-face, one-on-one (only 2 elements are participating). As your baby grows older, these interactions turn “triadic” including objects (cue in all the cute toys). What this means is that now these toys become an object of focus for verbal and attentional exchanges with your baby. This seemingly inconsequential transition is huge for language acquisition. It’s considered a turning point since your baby can start to relate words and sounds to specific objects and actions.

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Exploring the concept of “movement play”

If you’re a Kinedu advocate and have seen our activity videos, you’re most likely aware of the profound importance and link between physical activity and brain development. In this article we’ll explore the concept of movement play, analyze how this type of play impacts all four areas of early childhood development, and what you can do to encourage it at home.

First things first, what is movement play?

One of your baby’s first ways of communicating with you is through movement. The idea behind this theory is that, through free play-movement, your baby is working on all of her developmental areas, not just the physical one. Movement play is when children move in specific ways as they go about their development and repeat these motions. From early reflexes, senses, and movements, your baby is learning and stimulating her neurological system in many ways. Some examples considered movement play include floor play (tummy and back), belly crawling, crawling, spinning, rocking, rolling, etc.

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The importance of “being there”

Amidst all the chaos and our frantic day to day, it’s easy to lose sight of one of the most important things in early childhood development: being there. From numerous studies, we understand that in order to have a healthy brain development in babies and toddlers, they need a stable, responsive, and supportive relationship with a parent or caregiver.

As a parent who’s fully devoted to their child’s well-being and development, you’re acting as a buffer for any potential stressful situation at all times. If a child is subjected to massive amounts of stress or unreliable, absent adult relationships, his or her developing brain architecture may be disrupted, and, with it, the subsequent physical, mental, and emotional health may also be affected. We’ve put together a few of the most important aspects and questions out there about the concept of “being there”.

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Your baby’s early learning theories

You’re probably aware by now, but your little one’s brain is developing at such a rapid speed that he can come up with theories and explanatory systems that we consider are way beyond his age’s capacity. From very early on, your baby is competent, active, and insightful. Different studies suggest that babies are not simply “passive” observers, but are rather building a collection of theories and knowledge that helps them navigate and understand the world around them.

Some of the explanatory theories that babies begin to construct from a very early age are:

  • Theory of objects – Babies understand the fundamental principles about how objects move in space and time. Every time your baby’s playing with any toy, he is further building on this theory understanding how the object moves and how it can be manipulated.
  • Theory of numbers – Babies begin forming two types of numerical systems that serve as the base for future mathematical use. One for small, exact numbers, and the other for larger quantities of numbers.
  • Theory of living things – Babies begin to understand the basics of this theory when they are able to distinguish between living and non-living things, or ideas like that a cut will eventually heal.
  • Theory of the mind – They have a pretty simple theory that what people are looking at is a sign of what they are paying attention to, that people ultimately act intentionally, and that people have feelings (positive and negative).
  • Theory of relation – Through exploratory play, babies learn to recognize casual relations and then use this knowledge to their advantage and to solve problems like how to get a toy to work.

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Feel the love with your little one

“Imagine if the hugs, lullabies, and smiles from parents could inoculate babies against heartbreak, adolescent angst, and even help them pass their exams decades later.” (Winston & Chicot, 2016)

During the first three years of life, your baby will develop 90% of his adult brain size. This rapid growth accounts for 700–1000 synapse connections being formed each second. The experiences your baby is subjected to, whether positive or negative, are crucial to this early wiring and pruning that enables millions and millions of new connections to be formed. The importance of connecting with your baby can go a long way in ensuring his secure attachment to others, resilience, self-esteem, building of relationships, and overall development.

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How can we foster self-control and self-regulation in our kids?

During your adventures in parenthood, you’ll come across a wide-range of typical baby and toddler moments that can basically come down to one thing: self-control or (most times) the lack of it. First off, when talking about self-control we’re referring to the ability to inhibit strong impulses (like running off or biting a friend). On the other hand, self-regulation is all about reducing the frequency and the intensity of those strong impulses by proper management (for instance the ability to resist sweets). In a way, self-regulation is what makes self-control possible. So, what can we do to teach our little ones these very important set of skills?

Developing self-control begins at birth and continues across your little one’s entire life. It’s critical in helping your baby’s social environment, overall development, and to succeed in school. It will help your son to learn to cooperate, cope with frustration, and solve conflicts properly. When it comes to these skills, your simple day to day interactions as parents are the ones that mean the most:

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The science behind deferred imitation

Deferred imitation is typically defined as a modeled action or series of actions that are reproduced after a certain delay.

The beauty behind deferred imitation is that it can give us a tremendous amount of insight into our little one’s development. It symbolizes an underlying complex cognitive process. It has been theorized, that imitation may also be an important channel for early social learning. It seems that observation has a great effect on skill acquisition and, in some cases, even more so than conditioning or trial and error.

When your baby is be able to imitate what he saw you do a day or a week before, he shows that he has acquired the ability to retain the information, recall it, and reproduce it without a guide later on. Closing a flap, pushing a button, or shaking an object after seeing an adult do so a while ago are simple acts that demonstrate a cognitive task, as well as physical one. Deferred imitation taps more into “recalling” abilities than recognition per se. Your baby must do something more than simply discriminate between a familiar and an unknown object, he must use his motor skills to reproduce the act he saw earlier.

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Making the switch

Why is it a big deal to let go of the bottle and finally welcome the sippy cup?

Just like with any other toy or object, it’s likely that your little one has gotten used to and attached to the bottle. Although it seems to be a simple transition, it can represent a huge deal for your baby. Staying on the bottle for a long time has detrimental effects on your baby’s teeth and produces cavities, so plan ahead and begin gradually introducing the sippy cup.

Studies suggest that you’ll have an easier time doing this change if you start before your little one has reached the age of 1. As a parent, you’re your child’s best judge of character and as such you’ll know when the time is right. Plan accordingly so that no mayor stressful events pile up with this, such as the birth of a new sibling or a big move. Continue reading