Looking and Learning with Your Baby

These past two weeks have been all about attention and eye contact in your child and why these two most basic forms of communication are so important.

To make sure that all of you parents are the experts... we have just one more week of take-away information that you can start using today with your baby.

Researchers at the University of Iowa are conducting a study to determine just how important it is that our babies are looking to learn. Remember that seeing is how they explore their world, and as their visual environment changes, learning begins through visual exploration.

As parents, we can create just the right experiences for infants, and begin having a profound impact early on. Here are some things to do at home:

  • In the first 3 months, create time for face-to-face contact. Smile often and stay engaged as your baby coos and gurgles
  • In the first 6 months, pay close attention to your baby as he begins to babble, maintain that eye contact. Narrate play-time activities with simple toys (for example: Give him a toy and say something about it, like “Feel how fuzzy the teddy bear is.”) and try to hold your baby’s attention on one object by eliciting eye contact for longer.
  • In the first 9 months, be patient as you try to decode your infant's baby talk and nonverbal communication, like facial expressions, gurgling, or babbling sounds that could signal either frustration or joy. Keep narrating and stay interested as your baby “talks.”

Infants are learning by seeing, playing, and exploring. For instance, if an attractive toy is sitting in front of your child, they may first look for a variety of reasons: its color, a noise it makes. But as a parent, you can increase this “look time” to make an object look more visually appealing, which captures the infants attention... This starts a process for memory formation. But if you create an experience that allows the child to hold the object actively in their mind for longer, there will be a learning trace, which lingers, even when your baby looks away.

All those memory traces create learning over weeks and months. And researchers have found that better and more efficient learning is possible.

Researchers studied a model of two infants: one that had a “responsive” parent and one with a less responsive parent. The “responsive” parent demanded extra time and support for the infant to focus on an attractive toy (by shaking it, singing about it, or bringing new dimension to the toy in some way).

They found that the model with the “responsive” parent learned more and learner better, in that they could more easily distinguish known versus novel objects. They could even detect subtle differences from one object to the next.

So, how will you continue to capture your child’s attention and eye contact during playtime? If you can teach them to sustain their attention for longer, they may be talking sooner. Or if your child is at risk for speech and language delays, you can provide this method of training to make their early experiences more memorable for easier learning.

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