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In the context of independent behavioral, developmental and psychology fields (regarding people of any age), there appears common revelation about the first few years of life... and their impact on the rest of it.

For example, in the context of speech pathology:

The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders has estimated that about 6 to 8 million people—children and adults—have some form of language impairment. It is believed that the first 6 months of life are most crucial to a child’s development of language skills prior to school age [1].

or in the context of learning abilities:

The emotional, social and physical development of young children has a direct effect on their overall development and on the adult they will become. That is why understanding the need to invest in very young children is so important, so as to maximize their future well-being [2].

What arises over and over is a deep call to action for parents/communities - to deliberately shape these years.

Questions:

  • Is this call to action happening?

  • Besides reading articles at random as they become available (for example: http://www.child-encyclopedia.com), it there another way (courses/webinars/associations?) for a parents to educate themselves on the first 3 years of development, in general?

  • Is there any type of formal or worked out curriculum based on age, for daily activities that could be practiced by infants? (For example, at 6 moths exposure to music, then at age 1.5 begin story telling, etc?)

  • Is there any type of formal setting (i.e. pre "pre-school") that addresses this time period and it's needs?

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    I don't have time to formulate this as an answer, anyone is free to run with this and take the points. The research to date is pretty conclusive that, at least for the majority of children, free play is the best curriculum for kids under 6, although there are places where specific interventions are warranted for a very small number of children.. – pojo-guy Nov 26 '18 at 13:02
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On the topic of parents educating themselves, I found a decent course on early childhood development on Study.com recently. Unfortunately its not free - they want $30/month to access their videos. Thats too much for me to justify for what is essentially a hobby/interest but it might be about what you are looking for. It seemed to be intended as supplementary to a normal university curriculum and included test prep and things. Each lesson was comprised of really well done videos though that seemed quite informative based on the syllabus and the few minutes of video I was able to watch for free.

Its not a curriculum, but the book "Thirty Million Words" has a LOT to say on the topic of how to interact with infants and young children to increase their potential.

The crux of it is: TALK. Talk to them, interact with them. If they are looking at something, talk ABOUT it. Ask THEM about it. But ask them to describe it: rather than "Do you like ____?/Do you think ____ is interesting?" ask them questions along the lines of "Do you see these lines on it, how would you describe it?/What shape would you call it?".

The book is a GREAT read and I HIGHLY advise you to read it if you are interested in brain development. Some parts seem to be a bit "sales-y" about their "methods" and whatnot but ignoring that the information in it is fantastic.

The book goes on to look at why low-income areas often have children that struggle in school while similar areas (controlling for various other factors) have children who do better and it came down to talking. Thirty million words is the average number of WORDS that children from low income families have missed out on by... some age (I can't remember - maybe 4yo?). Much of this is correlated to the requirements for the parents to work longer and harder to make ends meet and so had less time to interact with the children - often putting them in front of the TV.

The book also looked at the quality of interaction and speech with the children. TV was basically useless in terms of "exposing" the child to words. They just did NOT absorb it. They compared this by showing some kids/infants a video of a woman talking in a different language and then compared it to the result of having the woman ACTUALLY THERE talking to the kids/infants and the kids exposed to the actual person would later respond to the same foreign words while the kids/infants who just had seen the video would not even react.

The tone also was found to play a big role and was correlated strongly to the number of words said in a household (they would record the speech in a house for a number of days and then analyze it). Harsher, angrier tones and commands accounted for a much larger portion of the words spoken in low-word houses while it would account for a much lower proportion in a high-word house.

The book then went on to look at math and reading comprehension when the studied children where in grade-school and found that the correlation between words and achievement was undeniable.

(I strongly encourage you to give the book a read as I think I do a poor job explaining all this compared to the book. My local library carried it - perhaps yours will too? :) )

  • excellent reference, will give it a read. – Greg McNulty Dec 2 '18 at 21:37
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There is no such curriculum, and no need for one. At that age, learning is driven not by cognitively remembering new information, but by the infant's CNS developing the connections necessary for new activities like walking and language.

You do need sensory input, or the networks will not develop. There is extensive animal research on this from the mid-20th century (kittens who physiologically couldn't perceive vertical lines after being raised in a prepared cage, for example) and also evidence from disabled, neglected, or animal-raised children. But it is highly unlikely that a normal child will be sensory deprived to the point where something will not develop.

You don't have to somehow ration sensory input, or go out of your way to increase certain modalities though - the everyday activities typically practiced with infants are sufficient. If you do more of them, or do them earlier, you will not be able to speed things up, and there is no "earliest recommended" age in the sense that you can start exposing the child to everything positive in your life right from the start - see for example Pinker's The language instinct for a good explanation of how children develop language abilities, the basic principle applies to other abilities too.

The one thing which should never be missing from the baby's environment is a caregiver who interacts in a highly empathic way. I would suggest reading the book The body keeps the score here - that's an adult's book on overcoming psychological difficulties by somebody who led a large trauma center for years, but in part 3 ("The minds of children") he gives a very good summary of the current state of knowledge on attachment and attunement theories, and cites research on how parental behavior (mirroring, helping with emotional regulation) leads to very different outcomes many years later. Specifically,

the vast majority of mothers did just fine in their attunement to their infants - it does not require extraordinary talent to be what [researcher Donald Winnicot] called a "good enough mother". But [...] if a mother cannot meet her baby's impulses and needs, "the baby learns to become the mother's idea of what the baby is."

and

Caregivers often don't realize that they are out of tune. [In a taped interaction, e]verything was going well until the baby pulled back and turned his head away, signaling that he needed a break. But the mother ddid not pick up on his cue, and she intensified her effort to engage him [...] Finally he started to scream, at which point the mother put him down and walked away, looking crestfallen. [...] It's easy to imagine how this kind of misattunement, repeated over and over again, can gradually lead to a chronic disconnection.

These interaction patterns have long term effects very similar to those of children who have been abused or have lived through something terrible, like witnessing the WTC attacks.

Infants with seriously disrupted emotional communication patterns with their mothers at eighteen months grew up to become young adults with an unstable sense of self, self-damaging impulsivity [...], inappropriate and intense anger, and recurrent suicidal behavior.

Since there are many families where these patterns occur - van der Kolk cites a study where 62% of children had secure attachment (the one you want), 15 percent avoidant, 9 percent anxious/ambivalent (these two are not too good, although they do grow up to be mostly functional adults), and 15 percent disorganized (the ones with the problems from the last quote) - I would say this is one area where research has shown that you should take special precautions to expose the child to the propery sensory input, specifically the proper emotional reactions from the caregiver. About everything else - music, speech, movement, smells, pathogens - is likely to be present in sufficient amounts in a normal family environment.

One last thing which is not always present in the environment, and can be timing-sensitive, is water. There is a window for baby swimming (up to about 6 months). You can still teach a child to swim and enjoy water later though, it is just a more involved process.

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I stumbled upon the Parenting for Brain website earlier this afternoon. The site contains quite a bit of useful information ranging from Brain Development to assorted Parenting Styles.

The 'call to action' you are asking about is, IMHO, a difference between social classes. Wealthier segments of our population are more focused on their child's potential. Lower economic segments rely on federally or privately funded programs (example: Head Start), however, that doesn't necessarily mean that they comprehend the benefits of those programs. Unfortunately, there are a lot of families that lack access to the concept of early childhood development and it's longterm affect on their families.

The concept of a Preschool type of environment, filled with caring, loving, educated caretakers who will nurture your little one sounds like a dream come true. But, still a dream. Leaving our children with (virtual) strangers while we go off to be productive and successful professionals is the crux of modern Motherhood. It broke my heart. My son was safe - or so I want to believe - but I know that things weren't always handled the way I would have handled them. When you get right down to it, preschools and daycares are supervising hourly wage employees to watch over your child. What? You want better, more personalized, care? Consider a Nanny.

  • thanks for the link, looks really good. Will dig in. I was thinking a classroom for the parents and kids! – Greg McNulty Dec 2 '18 at 21:41
  • Parenting classes do exist, however, I'm not sure you will find precisely what you are looking for. If you can't find it, you might find it worthwhile to create it. – elbrant Dec 3 '18 at 1:54

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