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How to improve intelligence

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Julie Loe

Question

How can I make sure that my baby will be as intelligent as she can be? What can I do to make this happen?

Answer

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.

Development of Intelligence in Children:
The First Three Years

By Linda M. Levine, M.Ed.
1990 by Communication Skill Builders, Inc.

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

"Will my child learn anything by just playing?"

"My child Down syndrome. Can I help her learn?"

Experts disagree as to just what intelligence is, but they guess that between 50percent 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 the 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 time 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 maybe the most important way children learn to adapt to the 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 adult, 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 the 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 that 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 that 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 care 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, any four-legged animal might be called "doggie". 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 you 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 an reach them. Introduce new toys one at 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.

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Last modified: January 26, 2013