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Newborn and Infant Learning

By Esther Andrews

Congratulations! A newborn comes into the world. You come home from the hospital with a little bundle of joy, so tiny, so cute. What does it do? - sleep and eat, cries, and nothing else, it seems like. Is it learning? Does it have intelligence? You bet it does! A newborn learns faster than you can imagine. It learns so much about it's environment, we can't even fathom...

A newborn learns who the mommy is, who the daddy is, maybe other people. How do they sound? How do they look? How do they feel? How do they smell? How do they react to the sounds I make? While a brand new baby lives the first new days in the world, it learns a big load of information. It has to learn how to breathe, how it feels to be outside of the womb, in the dry air. It feels different temperatures, sees light and dark, feels hands holding it and picking it up. Learns how to suck, and how to swallow. A new baby also also learns to communicate. It learns that when it cries - it gets to eat! That when mommy (or daddy, or grandma...) picks it up, it feels warm and good! What else does the newborn learn? The newborn develops it's eye sight and hearing at this time. After a week or two, the infant starts being able to focus it's eyes, and it's hearing develops.

I can't wait to tell you about Tatum, my 4 weeks old grandbaby. Then I will suggest some activities for brand new babies that can make a difference. My daughter Tammy has requested that I teach her baby to swim, as I did with my two kids. Eric, my son has gotten his first swimming lesson in our bathtub, as soon as we started bathing him, and shortly thereafter I started taking him into our swimming pool with me for swimming lessons. So I have explained to Tammy how to start teaching Tatum how to swim.

I must explain here that newborns are not at all bothered by the water. They love it, because they are very familiar with the feeling of being in warm water, where they have spent a significant amount of time, in the womb. So the difficulty is really for the mother to get comfortable with letting the child be in the water.

I have explained to Tammy that if you blow on a baby's face, the baby will hold it's breath. So I told her to do this several times outside of the water, to convince herself that the baby does hold her breath when blown on her face. I also told Tammy, before she does that, to count to 3, to communicate to the baby that she is going to blow on her face and put her face in the water. So Tammy has done this for several days during the baby's bath, she has counted till 3, and then blown on the baby's face, and gently put her face in the water as soon as the baby held her breath.

A few days later, when Tammy counted till 3, the baby has already learned to close her eyes and hold her breath, without the need to blow on her face. What do you think about this? It is clear that the baby has already learnt that when she is in the bath tub, and mommy counts till three, she is going to put her in the water! Is that a good enough proof that the baby is learning at the speed of light from it's environment?

So how can we take advantage of this fact and start teaching the baby lessons that will benefit it in the future and help it develop better? Here are some suggestions for activities that parents can do with very new babies immediately at the beginning. These activities should be done when the baby is awake (don't wake the baby up just for this!) and only when the baby is comfortable and in good mood.

  1. Music - play lots of classical music. Choose relaxed, light classical music that you like. Classical music relaxes the baby and makes it more comfortable, and also helps develop the hearing, the neural connections to the brain. The baby learns to enjoy the pleasant harmony of classical music.

  2. Talk to your baby. Don't use "baby talk", use correct language. Your baby is listening to every word! The development of language and vocabulary has already started. When you talk to your baby, you help your baby develop it's language skills and vocabulary. In addition, your baby already learns to identify your voice, and to even to recognize your tone of voice.

  3. Dance! Babies love rhythmic movement, and they love to look at the things around them. I have noticed that when I hold a baby and dance around with it to the rhythm of the music, the baby looks around and enjoys the movement of the things around us. This helps develop the visual neural connection to the brain. It helps the baby develop it's eye sight and it's ability to focus it's eyes.

  4. Baby gym: put the baby on a big exercise ball. Make sure you hold your baby, so it doesn't fall! Then start gently and slowly moving the ball in all directions. Your baby will start using it's muscles in order to balance on the ball. This is the beginning development of coordination, and it also strengthens the baby's muscles. A few minutes a day will help your baby get strong and coordinated.

  5. Nowadays, babies are put to sleep on their back. It has shown that by doing that, the number of SID (Sudden Infant Death) cases has been reduced by 50%. However, when the baby is awake, and you are right next to it watching, you can put the baby on it's belly. Place rolled up towel under it's arms. The baby will, as soon as it's strong enough, hold up it's head and strengthen it's neck muscles and it's back muscles. This is a very useful exercise.

  6. Sing to your baby. Again, your baby will learn to recognize you by your voice, develop it's hearing and also learn the song that you are singing.

  7. Train perception. At about 2 weeks, your baby will start focusing it's eyes. You can hold a picture or a colorful toy in front of your baby, and move it from side to side. If the baby follows it with it's eyes, also bring it closer to it's face, and farther. If the baby follows, it will develop the baby's eye sight and the neural connections to the brain. This exercise is very beneficial to the development of your baby. It has shown that it helps strengthen the connection between the left and the right brain hemispheres. The muscles of the body are working in concert with each other. Stimulating the use of your baby's eyes stimulates the use of many other muscles in your baby's body, which strengthens important muscles and develops your baby's coordination.

  8. Languages. Can you have someone talk to the baby in a different language? Several languages? Great! Since your baby's language skills are already developing at this age, teaching it several languages is a big advantage.

  9. Flash cards. Very soon you will be able to start showing the baby some flash cards. Make them really big and the color red. You can start teaching the baby to read, you can start counting... whatever you can think of. You want to teach the baby shapes? Colors? Words? You can do it! No, it is not too early! At 4 weeks, my little granddaughter has already learned that when her mommy is counting till 3 in the bath tub, she is going to submerge her the water, and she knows to hold her breath. Yes, she is capable of learning a lot more!
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