Babies Are Master Learners: How Adults Can Stimulate Their Innate Learning Skills

Infants can learn a lot about the world—if adults know the right ways to encourage them.

Infants come equipped with higher learning skills—it's up to adults to encourage their development, and foster their natural sense of agency. So what's the best way to do that? Help them create their stimuli, not just consume it, says parenting expert Janet Lansbury. Screens are a fact of life for the modern infant, following them everywhere they go in their parents' hands or pockets. How does screen-based learning affect their development? Mobile devices aren't the devil, but understanding how an infant's mind is developing can help you choose the best toys for the kid in your life. Screens, even small ones, can be incredibly overstimulating. Babies are soaking in their environment constantly, and their senses are stimulated by the movement of hair, light coming through the window, a small noise—they are all mysteries a baby tries to solve. Screens are entertaining, but their mystery is too complex and it doesn't adequately demonstrate the cause and effect needed for learning. Lansbury explains how to choose the toys that will help kids become active learners—exercising their creativity and analytic mind— rather than being passive learners. Janet Lansbury is the author of No Bad Kids: Toddler Discipline Without Shame and Elevating Child Care: A Guide to Respectful Parenting

Technological Leaps: Will the Kids Really Be Alright?

Is the technology of the future more radical than the technology of the past? Alison Gopnik provides some historical perspective.

Kids in waiting rooms and on transport are kept placid with smartphones and earphones, pressed into their developing canals. Six-month olds already know they need to swipe to unlock an iPhone. Information darts in and disappears just as quickly on smartboards in classrooms. Our attention spans are shot. Our collective impatience is at its historical peak. Will it stunt early development? Is anyone thinking of the children? Well, It’ll be 20 years before we really know the effect that current technology is having on them, but there is no doubt it will change them. This doesn’t cause a swell of anxiety within developmental psychologist Alison Gopnik, because a look through our history as animals reveals that’s exactly how we’ve always operated, and in fact it’s what sets us apart as a species. We use tools, we reshape our physical world, and our inner one. When the printing press and the telegraph were introduced, there were similar dystopian predictions of terrible change – and the world was transformed, certainly, but not for the worse. Our love of stability and familiarity is coming into conflict with the acceleration of technological innovation. Adults worry because it may not be intuitive to them, says Gopnik, but young minds learn differently. There may be trade-offs in the way things have always been but in history, by and large, the benefits outweighed the harms, and they will continue to do so. It’s as human to continually advance as it is to grapple with what is new. Alison Gopnik's most recent book is The Gardener and the Carpenter: What the New Science of Child Development Tells Us about the Relationship Between Parents and Children

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