While genetics has a major part to play, smart kids are also shaped by their very first teacher – you! Carrie Cox looks at ways to give your child a wonderful head start.
Toddler + Preschooler
It’s been estimated that a toddler’s brain is about twice as active as that of a university student, suggesting there’s a lot more going on inside that little noggin than a pressing desire to smear the walls with yoghurt. In fact, medical research has shown that unlike any other part of the human body, the brain has done most of its growing by the time a child is five years old.
By that time, most of the critical pathways and connections within the brain have already been laid down, and some have been discarded permanently. What remains is the foundation for a lifetime of future learning.
Young children’s minds are often described as ‘sponges’ due to their capacity to absorb so much of what is going on around them, but perhaps that is understating the matter. Maybe a ‘mop’ is a better description, because it is possible that young children can soak up a virtually limitless amount of information. But here’s the big question: is the size of your child’s ‘mop’ predetermined, or can early education increase its absorbency?
Nature versus nurture
Researchers have long sought to prove that intelligence is a purely genetic trait, but overwhelmingly the proof shows otherwise. While adults with high IQs are more likely to have children with high IQs, the reason is as much, or even more, to do with a child’s developmental environment as any hereditary hard-wiring.
“A stimulating environment can dramatically increase IQ,” argues Dr Jan Strydom, a professional educator who developed the Audiblox preschool program for children with learning challenges. “At birth, every person is dealt a hand of cards – his genetic make-up. But without having learned the game and without regular and rigorous practice, nobody will ever become a champion at any game.”
A recent study by North American researchers found that bright teenagers do have a different brain structure to their more average classmates but that this structure is largely shaped during the formative years. Apparently, there is a critical ‘use it or lose it’ phase of early brain development during which unwanted connections between neurones are pruned as the brain streamlines its operations. It is at this time that parents can make a vital, brain-boosting difference.
I believe both nature and nurture play important role in the development of the child. There should be balance though. I'm not the first to admit that I do well with my kids when it comes to teaching but I try my best and so far, so good. In this day and age when both parents are working, it's easy to forget that our kids need our attention (pulse oximeters might be need to keep in track). Well, who says parenthood is not a job. It is and the hardest job of all.