What about Baby Math? What You Should Know

Babies are the picture 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 the same conclusion. They saw a baby’s brain as a naive, blank slate, and attributed the great majority of responsibility for building his intelligence to the power of nurture. The most recent research shows that it isn’t nearly 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 issues being researched is babies’ understanding of numbers. Yes, numbers—and not just for kids. According to Feigenson, the roots for adult reasoning, as well as a rudimentary awareness of numbers, are laid from infancy. So, what exactly is going on within that developing brain? And, if newborns are as intelligent as scientists now believe, what can be done to enhance their abilities?

Infants as young as 5 months were able to focus and follow a demonstration in which two dolls were placed behind a screen, which was subsequently removed to expose one, two, or three dolls in a 1992 study done by Karen Wynn, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology at Yale University. The study demonstrated that newborns spent more time looking at the wrong results (when the elevated screen displayed one or three dolls) than the proper display. These findings lay the groundwork for the contentious notion that youngsters as young as one year old may comprehend abstract number and math concepts.

Recent investigations suggest that this was not a coincidence. This study has been reproduced and amended across the country, with similar, if not more thorough, results. According to the most recent study, the evolving image of a baby’s brain is far more complicated than the primitive, mentally-vacant newborn that predominated for many years. In a nutshell, your infant is probably smarter than you think.

Babies and adults, according to Elizabeth M. Brannon, Ph.D., Associate Professor in Duke University’s Department of Psychology and Neuroscience, have a «approximate number system.» Babies can recognise the difference between different arrangements of dots in the same way that adults can look at a number of objects and distinguish whether there are more or less items than in another display—but only if they differ by a sufficient amount. The capacity of infants to distinguish between visual presentations of numbers improves over time, but the key discovery is that there is a core mechanism in place from birth.

How did the scientists arrive at their conclusions? By accustoming newborns to a set amount of dots in a display. They are given a different display of dots once they have spent less time staring at this recurrent image. In most cases, newborns glance at the new display for a substantially longer period of time, demonstrating that they detect a difference, according to researchers. Looking time is regarded by scientists as a strong and consistent predictor of a baby’s expectancy (or surprise) at what he sees.

As neonates grow older, their awareness for numbers expands to include math. Kolleen McCrink, Ph.D., and Karen Wynn, Ph.D., modified the doll research by showing nine-month-old newborns short videos depicting settings in which five rectangular «characters» were hidden from view, followed by five more. When the item that was hiding the rectangles went off the screen, either five or 10 rectangles appeared. Babies spent more time looking at the wrong result of five rectangles than the intended result of 10 rectangles. When comparable «subtraction movies» were displayed, they discovered the same outcomes.

So how does this affect parents? Can you produce a genius by starting your infant off with difficult maths concepts? The bad news is that experts can’t agree on what can be done to impact extremely early newborns’ arithmetic abilities. They do, however, have some suggestions for activities that can assist guide newborns and toddlers in the correct direction:

Colourful stimuli, such as huge blocks and tiles, should be available. Play with your child and pay attention to what he does. Babies and toddlers automatically begin categorising items based on size, shape, or colour, laying the groundwork for lifelong mathematical learning.

Give your infant a variety of soundmakers, like as shakers, drums, wrist bells, and so on. Interacting with others and performing musical instruments will help you develop your sense of rhythm. Furthermore, as he plays, he will gradually understand that one shaking or pat generates one sound, two produces two sounds, and so on.

Set up items that inspire your baby to experiment with his motor abilities. Stacking rings, soft books, and other colourful, textural toys help newborns’ senses develop. As he grows older, you may observe him beginning to organise items in order and in groups—activities that will lead to more sophisticated numerical ideas.

It’s critical not to overthink teaching maths to your baby. It is not essential to force newborns to begin counting right away or to overload them with lectures or flashcards. The good news, and arguably the most crucial takeaway from these research, is that neonates have an intrinsic and universal understanding of numbers.

«Babies are incredible learners, and they do it all without our assistance!» adds Feigenson. «The best thing parents can do is participate in everyday activities with their children.» Talk to them about anything—numbers, toys in the playroom, whatever. Every event is a chance for a baby to learn… and involved newborns grow into engaged children.»


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