As we enter the gardening season I thought I would send a note about the most important seeds you can plant: seeds that develop a love of learning in your child. There is a debate as to whether it is nature or nurture that is most important in the development of a child’s intelligence. How much is a child born with and how much is influenced by their surroundings. It seems to be 50/50. There are some attributes a child is born with: athletic ability, musical ability and artistic ability are gifts a child is born with. Can a child who is extremely gifted not perform to their ability? Yes. Can a child who is born with limited abilities achieve in those areas? YES! Do not put your child in a box and label his/her abilities to do something. In the same way, do not expect a child who does not have an interest, or the ability, to be gifted in that area. Even though you were an art major your child may not have any interest in the activities at the art table. Sad, but it is not the end of the world. Maybe someday they will develop a respect for art even though they are not drawn to that area at the moment. It is your responsibility to open the world to your child. It is their responsibility to grasp what you give them.
So, what seeds are the essential for growing a child’s brain? According to John Medina, author of Brain Rules and Brain for Babies, they are:
* The desire to explore
*Self-control (executive function)
Create a safe environment for your child to explore. Both inside and outside, children need areas for unstructured, open ended exploration. Children need these opportunities to develop the desire to explore. Give your child time to make choices about what they are going to do. They need to time play in the back yard without an agenda, dig in the dirt, examine a plant, watch a bug and explore in a natural environment. This takes time -- your time -- to give your child a safe area in which to do this. It also involves YOU. You have to engage your child in activities that will promote open ended exploration. It can be messy (most likely), it can be time consuming (young children are not known for staying on a precise schedule), it can be joyful (seeing the world as your child does), it can be amazing (watching your child has he/she grasps a new thought, idea, concept). Children need to be given opportunities to see connections, ask questions – why? and what if? They need to touch, taste, hear, tinker, take apart, put together, just BE in their world in order to engage their brains in learning.
Can a child have self-control? It is something you need to help your child develop. Self-control is also known as executive function. It is the ability to stop one’s self from doing something, to think about the consequences, to take responsibility for one’s words and actions. Executive function is a better indicator of academic success than one’s IQ. According to John Medina, executive function controls planning, foresight, problem solving and goal setting. If you can delay your actions (control yourself) you will do better in school and the work place. If you can filter out distraction and stay on course you will be better at staying on task. It is important to help your child develop good impulse control techniques. Teaching them to take a breath, count to 10 or stomp their foot when they are mad rather than throw the toy, hit their sister, bite their friend. Is this easy? No. Does it take time? Yes. Will it be worth it in the end? YES!
You want your child to explore the world but you want them to be able to control their body while doing so. They need to learn that there is a time to explore and a time to sit, a time to be involved in their own activities or thoughts and a time to engage with or listen to others, a time to take a chance and a time to be cautious. Teaching your child when and how to use self-control is one of the most important lessons you can teach them. The more practice they have at delayed gratification (staying on task when they are working on a project -- concentrating on a task) the better the brain becomes at controlling behavior.
Researchers believe creativity has a few core components:
*the ability to perceive relationships between new and old things that result in new ideas
*motivating actions that did not exist before
Creativity must also have an emotional connection. This involves risk-taking. For young children it is not as scary to be creative as it is when you get into grade school. You can encourage your child’s creativity by giving them open ended activities that allow them to use their mind in a way that allows them the freedom to create. It may not be what you had in mind but it is their response to the environment and materials that have been presented to them. Giving them blocks to play with rather than media based toys (that have a pre-set idea already in place) allows them to create a city, a boat, a world for their small animals or practice fine motor skills, discover scientific principles, concentrate on visual awareness and/or a combination of all of this. Junk is a wonderful art/science open ended starter. Give your child a box of “stuff” that has been collected (juice lid tops, magazines, recycled materials, glue, string, etc.) then let them create – whatever they chose to create!
Being with your child during the time they are outside exploring, while they are creating something from ‘junk’, as they read a story or while they are taking their bath gives you time to communicate with your child. They can tell you their thoughts, what they have created, ask questions about the world, learn new vocabulary words and you can answer their questions, marvel at their thoughts, be amazed by their creations. If you are not present in their world you will miss opportunities to develop a base for communicating with your child when they are older. As you listen to what they are saying now and respect their input in a conversation you are teaching them that communication is valuable in human relationships. Giving them opportunities to practice visual cues is also a way you teach your child communication – ‘that made you sad’, ‘look at her face – she is happy’, and ‘oh, I see you are mad’. Helping your child build a strong vocabulary and teaching them emotional cues will allow your child to communicate his/her ideas and feelings to others while building strong relationships.
When you spend time with your child you are creating these relational bonds. Taking your child to work with you, going to a museum or the arboretum, visiting a neighbor, spending time reading books are all ways to strengthen your child's ability to communicate, understand emotions and to build strong vocabulary skills.
Plant these seeds now and watch as they blossom as your child grows.