Baby Talk

Development of Intelligence in Children: 

	The First Three Years

                  by Linda M. Levine, M.Ed.
     Reprinted from the 1996 winter issue of The Circuit, a

publication of the South Dakota Parent Connection.
From the Editor: One way to test the value of information from

professional literature about blind children is to compare it

to the information in literature about basic child

development. If it is consistent, then it can probably be

trusted. If it is inconsistent or even contradictory, then it

should be questioned. This isn't the only measure parents can

use to judge what they read about blindness and the needs of

blind children, but it's a good one.

     For this reason I believe general child development

articles, such as the following, do have a place (once in a

while) within the pages of Future Reflections. Once I got past

the title (in my experience, discussions of intelligence tend

to stir up more controversy than they enlighten), I was

impressed with the sound observations and good sense

recommendations. A few of the suggestions are dependent upon

vision, but most are not. Furthermore, the author doesn't make

a big deal about the process. There is no hype about how

difficult it is for children to learn, or parents to teach.

What a refreshing change from what one reads in so much of the

professional literature on blindness and children! 

     In any event, for its own intrinsic value, and for the

value it may have as a litmus test for blindness literature on

this topic, here is "Baby Talk--Development of Intelligence in

Children: The First Three Years:"

     "When do I teach my child about numbers and colors?"

"Will my child learn anything by just playing?" "My child has

Down's Syndrome. Can I help her learn?"

     Parents are anxious for their children's intelligence to

develop quickly and well. The good news is that parents have

the unique opportunity to raise the intelligence level of

their children during the first few years of life--and have a

wonderful time doing it. But it can be hard to know what kind

of stimulation and how much stimulation to give.

     Experts disagree as to just what intelligence is, but

they guess that between 50 percent and 80 percent is

inherited. That means that your efforts, plus your baby's own

interest in what is happening, will have a lot to do with your

child's intelligence. Motivation plays a key role in the way

a baby learns.

     The first two years of life are important ones for the

baby's growing brain. When babies are exposed to sights,

sounds, textures to feel, smells, and tastes, more connections

are made inside the brain.

     Children need both the active involvement of parents and

the opportunity to try to explore on their own. Stimulate your

baby but don't overdo it; it's easy to be so eager that you do

all the playing and the baby does all the watching! Children

who are pushed too fast often have problems with certain types

of thinking skills. Excessive spankings or other harsh

punishment can also harm a child's intellectual, physical, and

social development.
--Children learn by playing

     Playing is natural, enjoyable--and may be the most

important way children learn to adapt to the new world. For

adults, learning something new means work. But for the child,

learning is usually exciting and fun. Toddlers love to help

wash the car, sweep the floor, or pull the weeds. This "help"

can be fun or infuriating for the adults, but the toddler is

learning about how things work in the world. 
     Playing with real objects and imitating adults is an

effective way for young children to learn.
     Children need lots of time to play with real objects

before they understand the meaning of letters and numbers.

Don't think of teaching your child so much as guiding your

child toward discoveries about how things work, where things

fit, and why things act the way they do.
--Just what is intelligence?

     Think of intelligence as a kind of road. Each child

inherits a certain potential for developing intelligence. The

stimulation a child receives during the early years--provided

by adults and through the child's own interests--helps develop

the potential and helps determine where the child's

intelligence winds up along the road.

     A child might be at the "developmentally delayed" point

in the road, at the point called "above average," or someplace

in between. Children whose intelligence develops more slowly

are just at different points on the road than are children

whose intelligence develops more quickly.

     Children with mild, moderate, or severe intellectual

delays need stimulation to go further along the road. Children

with severely delayed intellectual development may need the

same kind of sensory experiences that infants and toddlers

thrive on.
Sensory experiences are where intellectual development begins.
     Children explore and understand the environment through

their senses. Young children learn best from experiences that

involve more than one sense, so provide many objects that can

be tasted, seen, smelled, heard, felt, and played with.

     Gentle touches, patting, tickling, and rhythmic movements

are naturally stimulating for baby and for children whose

intelligence is developing at a much slower rate. Stroking

with a soft baby brush, cotton ball, or piece of velvet, or

gently massaging arms, body, and legs are good ways to put

children in touch with their own bodies. You can also

stimulate your baby's senses by giving interesting things to

look at or listen to.

     Babies need to look at slowly moving objects, a variety

of patterns, and bright colors. They need to hear adults talk

to them and sing to them from the moment they are born! They

need to hear sounds of things like clocks, rattles, music

boxes, and cars. 
Long before they can talk, small children understand what is

being said to them. 
     The miracle of language development is intertwined with

the development of intelligence.
--What about memory?

     Memory gets stronger as babies become toddlers. Being

able to remember what took place in the past allows children

to gather information, to compare it with old information, and

to make new connections. The toddler who says "Nana" as the

car gets to Grandmother's house is showing good long-term

memory. It's a big step when children use memory to relate

what is happening to what has happened in the past.

     Parents often think of early intelligence as knowing the

names of things. This skill--concept formation--results after

children have had many experiences and can link those

experiences to a name. At first, all four-legged animals might

be called "doggies." As children get older and focus on

concept formation, the animals become cats, dogs, cows, and

horses. It takes time for the thinking processes to mature,

but how exciting it is to watch it happen, a bit more each

day!
--What can I do to help my child build intelligence?

*  Create an atmosphere for learning and be sure your child is

interested. Let the child lead the activity; stop when the

child is bored, tired, or frustrated.

*  Repeat those activities that your child wants to do again.

They may be boring for you but enjoyable for the child.

*  Encourage your child. Assure your child that making

mistakes is a normal part of learning.

*  Encourage active play. Running, jumping, and other active

play is better than sitting in front of the TV or watching

adults play.

*  Keep a variety of toys and books on low shelves where your

child can reach them. Introduce new toys one at a time. Too

many toys can overstimulate a child.

*  Help your child use the senses--hearing, seeing, touching,

tasting, and smelling--to explore objects. Focus on one sense

at a time.

*  Talk a lot as your child explores. Talk about what is

happening and what you are doing.

*  Provide toys that allow baby to see cause and effect.

Pushing a button to make a cat appear is not as stimulating as

hitting a pan with a spoon and seeing it move, or hearing the

noise.

*  Provide activities at the child's developmental level.

Allow the child to choose which toys to play with.

*  Work as a team with your child's teacher or therapists.

Share ideas and solutions. Together, you can help your child

live up to full potential, at school, at home, and in life.
For more information see Dodson, F., and Alexander, A., 1986,

Your Child: Birth to Age Six, New York, Simon and Schuster.

Healty, J. M., 1987, Your Child's Growing Mind, New York,

Doubleday.