Thursday, April 24, 2014

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Learning about our baby: How he learns, develops, and what we can do to be better parents

by Tarzan · 20 comments

baby creativity-childhood-developmentOne thing about fatherhood and parenthood that’s surprised me is how much I’ve become interested in what Monkey is thinking and how his little mind works and learns.  I guess throughout pregnanthood I never thought about how things would be day-to-day with Monkey.  And I never really thought about the feelings I’d feel or the thoughts I’d think as I held him and stared into his deep blue eyes.

Being a parent changes you.  It changes the way you think about your spouse.  It changes the way you think about yourself.  And it changes the way you think about life.  All of these changes are good changes, of course.  And they surely spark this new thirst for knowing and and a need for understanding that I’ve never felt before.  I mean being responsible for a brand new life who is completely dependent on you and your wife is an amazing feeling.

Sure, it’s scary to think about when you’re going through the pregnancy journey.  Sometimes you doubt yourself and/or your abilities.  Sometimes you wonder if you’ll be a good parent.  Sometimes you’ll wonder how you’ll know what to do.  And sometimes throughout all those feelings of being lost and confused, you get a sense of knowing that everything is going to be OK and that you’ll be just fine.

Having a baby is a boost of self-worth and in many ways along with a boost of confidence.  Heck, because I can now change Monkey’s diaper with my eyes closed and one hand tied behind my back, I’m feeling more confident than ever – and changing diapers was something I had deeply feared!

Fatherhood has changed me; it’s changed the way that I think about the future.  I find during my downtime I often think about our new life with Monkey.  The trips to the zoo.  The trips to the park.  The trips to the ocean.  The many, many journeys we’ll take together battling dragons, playing cops and robbers, hide and seek, looking for buried treasures, and a the spellbinding world that creative imagination creates, that I too used to live in, and remember well.

And speaking of imagination, I’ve always known first-hand that creativity is so vitally important to a child’s development.  When I was growing up, I was a kid who chose exploring outside over television.  I was always building forts, going on safaris, trying to build things, and later, taking apart toys to see how they worked (which was never well received by my parents of course!).

A child’s imagination is an amazing thing and as a parent, the more you nurture and support it, the more it expands.  I’m fortunate to have a vivid memory of my childhood stemming all the way back to my first memory before I could talk.  I can remember countless times I passed the time playing with toys that forced me to use my creativity to keep me entertained.  But then one day, the world of Nintendo entered my life and the magical worlds I had created on my own soon vanished as I was now living in the world of Super Mario Brothers.  And for a time, my creativity seemed to vanish with it.

I can recall countless times I’d sit there on the couch and complain how bored I was after getting tired of playing video games.  My father would list off countless ideas of things I or we could do, but none of them peaked my interest.  Looking back, I’ll go as far as saying that the video games muted my creativity.  And like many other adults, it was my creativity that fueled me growing up – something that I didn’t know until later in life.  Once I was able to work on getting it back, I felt “normal” again and no longer felt bored.

So what in the heck does all of this have to do with our baby Monkey?  Well… everything really.  Children are bursting with ideas, questions, thoughts, and creativity.  And I suspect the creative juices are beginning to flow even when they are babies and learning about the new world they live in.  But, there is a lot to learn here.  My thirst for wanting to know the answers to many questions I have about baby and childhood development is driving me to want to learn as much as I can on the subject.

In fact, over the last few days I’ve been doing a little research on how babies learn – and I’ve quickly become incredibly interested in the subject.  I mean what parent doesn’t want to have a really smart well-behaved kid who is the talk and envy of all your friends and neighbors?  :)

Now I know there is some internal wiring that we cannot change, but I also know there is a lot that we can influence.  And the more I’m reading, the more I’m learning how vitally important a lot of things are right now while Monkey is a baby that I had no clue about.

For example, last night I spent a good couple of hours researching many, many baby books on Amazon and Google.  I read the reviews, read up on some of the authors, and made sure that what I was buying had some good nuggets that both Jane and I can learn to help our Monkey learn, develop, and play.

Here are the books I ordered last night on Amazon:

baby brain and emotional development books

1. What’s Going on in There? : How the Brain and Mind Develop in the First Five Years of Life

2. Touchpoints-Birth to Three

3. Baby Hearts: A Guide to Giving Your Child an Emotional Head Start

4. Einstein Never Used Flashcards: How Our Children Really Learn–and Why They Need to Play More and Memorize Less

5. Bright From the Start: The Simple, Science-Backed Way to Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind fromBirth to Age 3

Now of course I fully believe in a father’s and mother’s instinct and I believe in going without heart and gut.  I believe in a lot of those things.  But I also believe in learning all I can about how Monkey learns, develops, and plays so that we can be the best parents we can be.  In fact, Jane and I are quickly becoming fascinated about Monkey’s mind and excited to watch/help him learn and develop. :)

The responsibilities of being a parent are immense, but will not doubt be filled many, many exciting times for Jane, Monkey, and myself.  I’ve got a lot to learn, but come to think of it, so does our baby Monkey!

As a side note, be sure to bookmark this page so you can come back to it and refer to the links above and below as needed.

Below are additional early childhood development resources I found for you to check out:

1. CDC - The CDC (Center for Disease Control) has a list of developmental milestones for children from 3 months to 5 years of age on this page.

2. Zero to Three - Zero To Three is a national nonprofit organization that informs, trains and supports professionals, policymakers and parents in their efforts to improve the lives of infants and toddlers.  An interesting tid-bit I read on their website, “Neuroscientists have documented that our earliest days, weeks and months of life are a period of unparalleled growth when trillions of brain cell connections are made. Research and clinical experience also demonstrate that health and development are directly influenced by the quality of care and experiences a child has with his parents and other adults.”

3.  Sign with your Baby: Baby Sign Language (ASL) Learning Kit – This is something that I’m currently looking into and researching, but from what I see thus far, looks very interesting and there’s a ton of proof out there this works.  (I also know someone personally who has used this with their baby a few years ago and had amazing success.)

4. Making Baby Genius – A great article about your baby’s learning power.

5. 50 ways to make your baby smarter - Really great info here on a 4-page PDF that you can print out from work or home and refer back to.

6. Questions about kids – Short article with some good tid-bits of information for you.

7. Watching TV Makes Your Baby Smarter? – Nope!  I’m glad I learned about this thanks to a comment and this link to Time given on another blog post today. :)

If you know of any other great resources into baby learning and development, please share them with us and our readers.  Thanks!

You might also want to read:

  1. Another father-to-be realization: Learning the sex of our baby makes things REAL.
  2. The BIG question pregnant parents ask each other 1,273 times… at least
  3. Baby Acne: treatment, causes, and sadly our little Monkey has baby acne
  4. Part 3: Issues with my parents, past & present
  5. When does the umbilical cord fall off? Well, baby Monkey gave us the answer to our question this AM!

Facebook comments:

{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Denise

Try playing a board game called Er-u-di-tion that incorporates both sight words and phonics.

This award winning game helps children learn to read, spell and understand the most common words in the English language while playing an entertaining board game.

Cards are categorized so children of all reading levels can play together!

2 CeliaB

Speaking of signing with baby… The Baby Signs program is research based and getting very big and well known. They have parent seminars where they teach you signs and tell you about the research etc. They also have baby and me classes where you go with your baby for 6 weeks and the instructor teaches you and your baby new signs every week. It is a fun activity to do with your baby and also for some people it is easier to learn signs in person than from a book or even a DVD.

3 HDL

Another interesting book you may want to add to your list is “The Optimistic Child” by Martin Seligman. I read this book in a college psychology course and thought some of the ideas could be very useful in practice. I plan to re-read this book before my baby is born because there is a history of chronic depression in my family and I want to make sure that she has the best chance of avoiding what can become a life-long battle to be happy. Anyway, thanks for the suggestions!

4 15 Weeks Pregnant

Thanks Tarzan for the great list of resources, I’ll have them bookmarked.

5 Tarzan

LOL @Cindy – you are right! Bare with me over the next week or two guys… Jane and I are beat and I may be a little slow.

Sorry Tracey – I re-read your post. My no-sleep-induced mistake. :)

It’s 11:18 PM and Monkey has been wide awake for awhile. Jane is sleeping on the couch and I’ve been tending to the little guy. He’s never been this active this time of night! All I want to do is sleep like Jane…

… Well, she’s not going to be sleeping any longer because I was supposed to wake her up at 11 PM to pump.

Also, Jane’s mom left today. We’re officially on our own from here on out. Wish us well tonight – we’re both sleeping in the living room because we don’t have the energy to move things into our bed room. I don’t remember what time we planned for me to sleep. Well, I better jump off here before I misread more comments in my sleepy state. lol

6 Cindy

Tarzen– I think you need some sleep! Tracey was talking about sign language not singing. :) Although I am sure Monkey would appreciate the singing lessons too. :)

7 devaskyla

@EllaJane, Actually, the research shows exactly the opposite. Babies who use signs understand the importance of language & tend to speak earlier. Even if it did slightly delay speech, it would be worth it imo, because it gives babies a way to be understood *so* much earlier than if you wait until they can talk. If you teach them signs like “hurt” & ones for emotions, it makes parenting so much easier.

@Tarzan Babies seem to inspire all kinds of funny little songs. I always like changing “Baby Beluga” to “Baby (name)” & singing the rest the same. It amuses me. I make up lots too, but almost never remember them.

I think those “your baby can read” are just more of the same as Baby Einstein, etc. I’d rather have my baby play now & learn to read later, unless they make it clear they want to read now. Also, it doesn’t really teach *reading*, it teaches them to memorize sight words. For most kids, that won’t do anything to help them to read later, since most kids learn to read best through phonics or a combination of sight & phonics. Here’s a review I found that explains the problems really well http://trevorcairney.blogspot.com/2008/07/your-baby-can-learn-to-read.html

8 Tarzan

Tracey T … OK, that’s it! Jane and I are going to take singing lessons. :) And believe us, we need them. You guys can hear us singing a song we recorded several months ago while Jane was pregnant:
http://www.hisboyscanswim.com/861/the-nine-months-of-pregnancy-song-believe-it-or-not-we-actually-created-this

That’s great that you were attending UC Davis when a lot of the researching was going on and you were able to see everything unfold right in front of you – literally!

I also appreciate you clearing up the question above about signs delaying language development. It’s something that I’d like Jane, Monkey, and I to learn.

I’ve already been testing something on my own… and you guys are going to this this is crazy…

Years ago I started to make a weird noise with my mouth every time I gave our dog a treat. After awhile, whenever he heard the sound, he’d come running up to me – ready for a treat. And here we are years later, I can make the sound anywhere in the house and he’ll run to the pantry waiting for it.

So, I’ve taken that and decided to try it on Monkey. When I’m holding Monkey and it’s time for Jane to breastfeed him, I’ll make sucking-like kiss noises quickly to let him know he’s about to eat – which I started doing when he was getting fussy and Jane was getting settled. I still do it and it seems to calm him down a little as I hand him over to Jane, and he doesn’t get as fussy, but who knows. :) I still have a lot of reading and learning to do to see if there is anything to that or I’m just crazy. ha ha!

9 Tracey T

Signing with your baby is awesome! Research has shown that it increases IQ, infant-parent bonding, parental satisfaction, and decreased frustration for both parents and infants/toddlers (ie less temper tantrums stemming from lack of understanding). I was attending UC Davis when much of this research was taking place there by Professors Linda Acredelo and Susan Goodwin authors of Baby Signs: How to Talk with Your Baby Before Your Baby Can Talk and I participated in the child development “lab” where baby signs where being used. It’s fun and helps you see how much is going on in their minds that would otherwise be overlooked and not appreciated. We started gesturing at 6 months with our own babies (you can start even earlier) and they would start using them around 8-9 months.

There was a question from someone about whether using signs delays language development. The simple answer is no. With baby signs you are using language and the gesture at the same time Once a child can say the word, they will stop using the gesture over time because you can shout a word from another room, but you can’t shout a gesture and be heard somewhere else. Using signs helps bridge the developmental gap between cognitively NOT being able to speak but otherwise able to communicate using gestures.

Parenthood is fun! I think understanding child development helps you to appreciate these “little” minds so much more :) Good work, Tarzan!

10 Tarzan

@TechyDad … That is interesting! Maybe it was your “techy/programming” mind that really took off thanks for video games. :) I’m completely on the other side of the left brain – 100% right brained here!

It’ll be so interesting to see Monkey take on some of my characteristics like you see in NHL. I can understand the really fun and a little scary part! One thing always rings in my ears – and always will, is something my grandmother used to tell me when I was bring a brat, “just wait until you have kids – I hope he’s like you so you can see first-hand what it’s like for us!” or something like that… I heard variations of that countless times growing up!

11 TechyDad

Funny you should mention Super Mario Brothers as a (temporary) end to your creativity. For me it was a new beginning. I was creative before, but once I was introduced to video games I decided I wanted to write one. I didn’t know how to program but I mapped out page after page of worlds to my own video games. I created back stories for my characters, special power-ups, the whole nine yards. Yes, this was all “wasted” in that it never got made into anything other than scribbles on paper, but I still think it was extremely valuable to my creativity as a programmer later on (even if I don’t program video games).

NHL is in many ways a mini version of me. My parent said so themselves on a recent trip. His mind goes a mile a minute and he sometimes has trouble keeping up with it. A simple answer becomes a life story (or at least a recitation of what he’s done over the past 24 hours). A quick question takes numerous detours as his mind trips over itself trying to codify his many thoughts into words.

It’s really fun (and a little scary) to see so much of myself in my big guy.

12 Tarzan

@kate … Thanks for that link! No, we have never heard of them – and sadly I don’t see that they are in our area… but will keep an eye on the site and hopefully they will be down the road.

@Karen … I’m realizing that I need some serious singing lessons.. lol

@Tracy … Now some singing DVD’s down the road is a good idea! That way Monkey won’t have to cover his ears when I sing!

@PB … I appreciate you sharing that with us – and awesome that you can remember signing before you could talk!

@devaskyla … Thanks! Urrrgghhh, more signing, eh? Ha ha. I’m really thinking about loading up on some CD’s down the road! But the good news is that when I change baby Monkey, I always sing songs about what I’m doing and what he’s doing and just make it up as I go. Keeps him, Jane, and I entertained. :)

@Alicia … I was just looking at them today. Anyone try that out?

@Cindy … Thank you!

13 EllaJane

I’ve heard that babies that learn sign language are slower to learn to speak. This is because they don’t need to communicate with words; they can just sign everything. Has anyone else heard this? Is it true? I would love for my baby to learn sign language, but I don’t want to hamper her ability to talk, or have her be a slow learner when it comes to verbal communication.

14 Cindy

Great resources!! Thank you for sharing.

15 Alicia

http://www.yourbabycanread.com/

if it works, would be a good investment

16 devaskyla

I can’t reccomend signing with your baby enough. I’ve done it with all 3. Each one, I start younger & get a response younger, too. My oldest was around 10 months & he had a couple signs just a few weeks later. My middle was about 4 months, by 6 months he was signing ‘potty’ & ‘milk’. I started at birth this time, but I’m not as consistent as I should be. Even so, he’s been trying to sign ‘milk’ since 2 months. I second the “Baby Signing Time” disks, more for parents & older kids, I don’t think babies get much from them. You can also check out the ASL browser (http://commtechlab.msu.edu/Sites/aslweb/browser.htm) for other signs

17 PB

Sign language is such a great communication tool for parents and babies. My dad is deaf so naturally I learned sign language as a baby. I have memories of communicating with my dad before I could verbalize, specifically I can remember reading books with him while learning the signs pertaining to the story with him. It’s a really awesome memory that we’ll share forever.

18 Tracey

This is going to sound like a plug but if you’re interested in signing with your baby I would recommend getting the Baby Signing Time DVDs. I used them with my daughter and I was totally amazed at how well it worked. I initially tried using a book with flash cards but it got boring, the DVDs have songs and animations and the woman who teaches uses ASL at home. It was amazing to me that my 12 month old could tell me exactly what she wanted even though she could only say a few words. I’ll be starting it again with my second one in a few months (he’s about 2 weeks older than your Monkey).

Congratulations on your new little guy. Enjoy the journey.

19 Karen

Signing with your baby is awesome. It is so fun to get a glimpse inside their mibd and learn what they want, or what they want to know more about.

20 kate

Don’t know if you or your wife have ever heard of the Parents As Teachers program. It is a wonderful opportunity to follow your child’s development month to month with a child development specialist. They come to your home once a month (at least in my city) and provide developmentally appropriate activities based on your child’s age and provide parents with reading material that covers 4 areas of development. Language, Cognitive, Gross/fine Motor and Social/Emotional. It is a free and voluntary program and in my opinion absolutely one of the best things parents, new and seasoned, can benefit from. Visit http://www.patnc.org for info on whether it serves your area.

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