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Five principles for closing the learning gap in babies

When it comes to improving learning and increasing brain development in children, the earlier we involve infants, the better.

Sociologists are talking a lot about something called “the learning
gap.” This is a gap in knowledge and ability seen between different
groups of children. These groups can vary based on race or socioeconomic
status.

The key is identifying ways to close, or even eliminate, this
learning gap in children. Closing the learning gap is a passion for
Harvard professor Dr. Ron Ferguson. He was stunned to be able to
identify a learning gap in children as early as age two. As he has
stated, “Kids aren’t halfway to kindergarten, and they’re already well
behind their peers.”

Brain development techniques can be implemented by caregivers well
before any formal learning programs, like preschool, begin. Even more
encouraging is that these techniques are mainly low cost or free.

In a recent interview with NPR, Dr. Ferguson said, “Things that we
need to do with infants and toddlers are not things that cost a lot of
money. It’s really about interacting with them, being responsive to
them.”

So he developed a plan to help eliminate the learning gap in kids. It
is a series of five principles that all caregivers can implement to
increase early childhood development significantly. He calls these
principles “The Boston Five.”

His goal is to introduce “the Five” to the Boston area and then
across the country. According to a recent report on NPR.com, the “Boston
Five” principles are:

  1. Maximize love, manage stress. Babies pick up on
    stress, which means moms and dads have to take care of themselves, too.
    It’s also not possible to over-love or be too affectionate with young
    children. Research shows feeling safe can have a lasting influence on
    development.
  2. Talk, sing and point. “When you point at
    something, that helps the baby start to associate words with objects,”
    Ferguson explains. Some babies will point before they can even talk.
  3. Count, group and compare. This one is about
    numeracy. Babies love numbers and counting, and there’s research to show
    they’re actually born with math ability. Ferguson says caregivers can
    introduce their children to math vocabulary by using sentences that
    compare things: “Oh, look! Grandpa is tall, but grandma is short,” or
    “There are two oranges, but only three apples.”
  4. Explore through movement and play. “The idea is to have parents be aware that their children are learning when they play,” Ferguson said.
  5. Read and discuss stories. It’s never too early to
    start reading aloud—even with babies. Hearing words increases
    vocabulary, and relating objects to sounds starts to create connections
    in the brain. The Basics also put a big emphasis on discussing stories:
    If there’s a cat in the story and a cat in your home, point that out.
    That’s a piece lots of parents miss when just reading aloud.

Maximize love and manage stress, principle number one, is related to a
previous article I wrote on minimizing insecurities and maximizing
success (“A good childhood can prepare us for a good life,” March 21,
2018 MN Spokesman-Recorder). Evident and crucial situations
involving food, housing, and family insecurities can have devastatingly
adverse predictive effects on children.

For many people, this new understanding can open doorways to
addressing and overcoming obstacles that can be life-changing. In a
recent CBS news segment related to the issue of adverse traumatic
childhood events and the way they affect subsequent human behavior, the
correspondent, Oprah Winfrey, commented that this new way of looking at
and understanding human behavior was “absolutely life-changing and will
influence all of her future relationships.”

Principle number four must include music and art. These are essential
for the developing brains of infants, too. Studies have evaluated the
social, intellectual and emotional outcomes of young children who
participated in art forms such as music, art, dance, theatre/acting,
drawing and painting. Emerging research supports the intimate
involvement in these activities and a positive influence on brain and
intellectual development in children.

Dr. Ferguson has decided that the best way to spread the word on
these early learning techniques is to teach them where the babies and
parents are. This teaching includes hospitals, community centers, social
service organizations, pediatric clinics, barbershops and hair salons,
and churches.

When it comes to closing the learning gap in babies, they need love
and attention. The more interactions we have with little ones, the
better. Their brains are like super-sponges. They soak up everything
that comes their way.

Learn and use Dr. Ferguson’s Boston Five principles. Use them as soon
as your baby is born. By doing so, you will put your child in the best
position to enjoy a happy, successful life.

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