Babies are the pinnacle of innocence, with their bright, wide eyes and soft skin. So it’s simple to believe that they know very little about their surroundings, and for many years, researchers came to that conclusion. They often considered a baby’s brain as a naïve, blank slate—and attributed the great majority of responsibility for building his intelligence to the power of nurture. The most recent round of study shows that it’s not quite that straightforward.
«New laboratory experiments have shown that, from very early on in life, babies think about objects, events, and people in some sophisticated and surprising ways,» says Lisa Feigenson, Ph.D., of Johns Hopkins University’s Laboratory for Child Development. One of the most fascinating subjects under consideration is babies’ understanding of numbers. That’s right: numbers—and not only for toddlers. According to Feigenson, the foundations for adult reasoning, as well as a basic awareness of numbers, are there from birth. So, what exactly is going on in that expanding brain? And, if newborns are as intelligent as scientists now say, what can be done to improve their abilities?
In a 1992 research done by Karen Wynn, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology at Yale University, children as young as 5 months were able to focus and follow a demonstration in which two dolls were placed behind a screen, which was later removed to expose one, two, or three dolls. The study demonstrated that newborns gazed longer at the inaccurate results (when the elevated screen displayed one or three dolls) than the right display. These findings lay the groundwork for the contentious notion that youngsters in their first year of life may grasp abstract number and math concepts.
More recent investigations demonstrate that this was not a one-time occurrence. This research has been reproduced and amended across the country, with comparable, and in some cases more thorough, results. According to the most recent studies, the evolving image of a baby’s brain is far more complicated than the basic, mentally-vacant newborn that persisted for years. In a nutshell, your infant definitely knows more about maths than you believe.
According to Elizabeth M. Brannon, Ph.D., Associate Professor in the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience at Duke University, neonates and adults both have a «approximate number system.» Babies can recognise the difference between different arrangements of dots in the same way that adults can determine whether there are more or fewer things in one display than in another. The capacity of infants to distinguish between visual presentations of numbers improves with age, but the heart of these discoveries is that there is a fundamental mechanism in place from birth.
How did the researchers arrive at their conclusions? By habituating babies—essentially, boring them with a particular number of dots on a display. When they begin to spend less time staring at this repetitive picture, they are given a different array of dots. Researchers examine their reactions, and in most cases, newborns gaze at the new display for a substantially longer period of time, demonstrating that they detect a difference. Scientists regard gazing time as a strong, dependable predictor of a baby’s expectancy (or surprise) at what he sees.
As babies get older, their awareness for numbers expands to include math. Kolleen McCrink, Ph.D., and Karen Wynn, Ph.D., adapted the doll research by showing nine-month-old newborns short videos depicting situations with five rectangular «characters» hidden from view, followed by five more. When the item that was hiding the rectangles went off the screen, either five or 10 rectangles were exposed. Babies spent more time looking at the wrong conclusion of five rectangles than the intended outcome of ten rectangles. They discovered the same outcomes when identical «subtraction movies» were displayed.
So, what does this imply for parents? Can you develop a genius by teaching your child sophisticated maths ideas from the start? The bad news is that experts can’t agree on exactly what can be done to impact the mathematics abilities of very early newborns. They do, however, offer some suggestions for activities that can assist guide newborns and toddlers in the correct direction:
Provide colourful stimuli, such as huge blocks and tiles. Play with your baby and see what he does. Babies and toddlers automatically begin categorising objects based on size, shape, or colour, laying the groundwork for future mathematics learning.
Give your infant a variety of sound-makers, like as shakers, drums, wrist bells, and so on. Interacting and playing with musical instruments will help you develop a feeling of rhythm. Furthermore, as he plays, he’ll eventually learn that one shake or pat generates one sound, two produces two noises, and so on.
Set up items that allow your baby to explore his motor abilities. Stacking rings, soft books, and other colourful, textural toys are excellent for stimulating newborns’ senses. As he gets older, you may observe him starting to organise items in order and in groups—activities that lead to more sophisticated numerical ideas.
It’s critical not to overthink teaching maths to your infant. It’s not essential to force newborns to start counting straight immediately, or to overload them with lectures or flashcards. The good news, and arguably the most significant takeaway from these research, is that this primitive awareness of numbers is both intrinsic and ubiquitous in neonates.
«Babies are amazing learners, and they do this all without our help!» adds Feigenson. «The best thing parents can do is engage their children in everyday activities.» Talk to them about anything—numbers, toys in the playroom, or anything else. Every event is a learning opportunity for a baby… and involved newborns grow into engaged children.»
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