Baby Minds: Brain-Building Games Your Baby Will Love - Birth to Age Three

Baby Minds: Brain-Building Games Your Baby Will Love - Birth to Age Three

by Linda Acredolo Ph.D., Susan Goodwyn Ph.D.


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More than 65 delightful games and activities to jump-start your baby's amazing brainpower

Can simply singing a song or blowing a dandelion under a toddler's nose help her mind to blossom? Can your baby count, remember events, and solve problems even before he can talk? The exciting answer to both questions is yes!

Breakthrough research is revealing the extraordinary inborn abilities of infants.
It is also showing how experiences during the first years of life profoundly influence intelligence, creativity, language development-and even later reading and math skills.

Now two psychologists and child development experts-authors of the bestselling Baby Signs-have created a delightful guide for parents based on the most up-to-date knowledge of how babies discover the world. You'll learn how to:

_ Create a homemade mobile to stimulate your three-month-old's delight in solving problems
_ Play a patty-cake game to help your two-year-old make logical connections
_ Initiate bedtime conversations that build your child's memory and sense of personal history
_ Develop "Baby Signs" to help your toddler communicate before he or she can talk
_ Stimulate your child's natural number skills with puppets and counting games
_ Use nursery rhymes and special read-aloud techniques to foster reading readiness
_ Nurture budding creativity with humor and fantasy play
_ And much more!

Baby Minds is not another program for creating "super babies." Instead it builds on activities that babies instinctively love to develop their unique abilities and make your daily interactions full of the joy of discovery-for both of you.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780553380309
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 07/05/2000
Pages: 240
Sales rank: 497,439
Product dimensions: 7.00(w) x 8.98(h) x 0.63(d)

About the Author

Linda Acredolo, Ph.D., is a professor of psychology at the University of California, Davis, and has served as associate editor of Child Development, the leading professional research journal, and as secretary of the prestigious Society for Research in Child Development.

Susan Goodwyn, Ph.D., is a professor of psychology and child development at California State University,  Stanislaus, and holds an associate researcher position at the University of California, Davis.

The authors have received numerous research grants, most notably from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, published well over forty scholarly articles and book chapters, and presented research findings in countless settings. They have appeared on Oprah, Dateline NBC, 20/20, and other media, and their first book, Baby Signs, was featured in national parenting publications.

Read an Excerpt

Your Baby's Amazing Brain

Remember that feeling of excitement and exhilaration the day your baby was born? You examined her tiny face and gazed with amazement into her unaccustomed eyes wondering what she must be feeling in her first experience of the "outside" world. If you were like most new parents, while you believed she was the brightest, most beautiful baby ever born, you had to admit that she didn't yet seem to have much going on "upstairs." But as we are now learning, appearances can be deceiving. While you were smiling and saying hello, rubbing her tiny fingers and stroking her cheek, her brain cells were firing away, activating various regions of her brain like the lighting of a Christmas tree. Far from the passive little bundle she resembled, your baby was hard at work, actively constructing the foundations of her future intellectual and emotional self.

Up until a few years ago, even infant researchers would have turned a skeptical eye on such a description. Now, however, with the help of incredible technology, scientists are able to actually observe physical activity in babies' brains. Dr. Harry Chugani, a pediatric neurobiologist at Wayne State University in Detroit, is one of the most experienced baby-brain watchers around. Using positron-emission tomography (PET) scanning, which displays various degrees of brain activity in an array of vivid colors, Dr. Chugani has been able to witness the bright red glow of brain-circuitry building in action. And what he is seeing supports the notion that, from the moment of birth, the environment into which a child is born begins to sculpt the brain in ways that will have long-lasting implications for its owner's future.

Building a Brain

Construction of this miracle organ we call our brain begins just weeks after conception, when fetal cells destined to become brain cells begin to multiply at the astonishing rate of about 250,000 per minute. Produced in the neural tube (which will eventually become the spinal cord), the neurons begin their journey to various regions of the brain, like dedicated soldiers, to perform their assigned tasks. By the time a baby makes her debut into the world, she will have an astronomical number of brain cells (or neurons) to begin her developmental journey toward adulthood. In fact, it is thought that all the neurons she will ever have are present at birth—a mind-boggling 100 to 200 billion.

If newborns have all their neurons in place, why can't they read, write, or speak? The brain still must undergo substantial changes in order to meet the challenges that each child will face throughout her life. Only through brain growth and development does a child truly become a social, emotional, and intellectual being—one who is able to build new friendships, revel in the joy of a new puppy, and master the complexity of long division.

One significant change that occurs in a young baby's brain is simply that it grows bigger. At birth a baby's brain weighs about 340 grams (about 12 ounces), and it continues to grow quite rapidly during the child's first few years. By her first birthday, her brain has already more than doubled in weight, to about 1,100 grams. Amazingly, by age five, brain weight will have reached about 90 percent of its eventual adult weight of 1,450 grams (almost 3 pounds). These increases in brain weight result both from cells growing larger and from the development of miles and miles of interconnective pathways that allow cells to communicate with one another. And as a baby's brain grows larger, dramatic changes take place in her ability to learn. Her memory becomes more functional, her language begins to develop, and her thinking skills are being continually refined.

The various structures of a baby's brain are also undergoing significant changes. Located atop the spinal cord and below the cerebral cortex, the subcortical structures are primarily responsible for basic biological functions such as circulation, respiration, digestion, and elimination, and for a newborn's reflexive behaviors such as sucking. These subcortical structures must be fairly well developed at birth in order for a newborn to survive. But it is the development of the cerebral cortex that sets us humans apart from less intelligent animals. Advanced mental capabilities, such as thought, memory, language, mathematics, and complex problem solving, which are unique to human beings, are all made possible by the development of the cerebral cortex.

The cerebral cortex is not only the largest part of our brain, it is also the part that most of us typically envision when we think of a human brain. The cerebral cortex includes our two cerebral hemispheres, each responsible for various higher-level functions. For example, the left cerebral hemisphere in most people is in charge of language, whereas the right cerebral hemisphere is more responsible for nonlanguage skills, such as recognizing familiar faces, finding our car in the mall parking lot, or sighing when we hear the melody of our favorite song. A newborn's cerebral cortex is relatively immature at birth compared to his subcortical structures. But as it grows in size and weight, begins to assign its cells specific jobs, and sets up patterns of connective circuitry, higher-level skills begin to emerge. It is the laying down of the neural wiring that connects each cell to a multitude of others that allows for the development of a mind.

Making a Mind

The "making" of a mind is all about neurons connecting with one another so that various parts of the brain can communicate. How do they do this? It mostly depends on the type of information that needs to be sent and the parts of the brain that need to receive it. Imagine you are living in California during the days of the wild, wild West when your first child is born. You can hardly wait to share the news with all your family. But sending birth announcements is somewhat difficult, to say the least, because most of your family members live in various states back East. You write a letter to your mother in Pennsylvania, your sister in Virginia, and your paternal grandmother in Tennessee. They in turn will send notes to various brothers, sisters, aunts, and uncles, who then send the news to a multitude of cousins and friends.

The moment you deliver your letters to your local Pony Express station, your news begins its long journey across mountains and valleys, rivers and streams. With mailbags slung across his saddle, the rider gallops toward the next relay station. As he reins in his horse, he tosses his mailbags into the arms of new riders, who lunge toward their own transfer points. The process continues until mother, sister, and grandmother have received your message and, in turn, launch messages themselves, each contributing to the ever-growing network of your family's communication system.

What exactly, you may be asking, does this have to do with baby minds? A child's developing neuronal circuitry works something like the Pony Express. Each neuron in a baby's brain grows a long taillike extension called an axon, which has many fingerlike structures at its end. Each neuron also has a corps of message receivers called dendrites. Dendrites are armlike structures that reach out from the neuronal body to take incoming messages to its neuron. Each neuron may have many, many dendrites and will generate new ones whenever the brain encounters new experiences. An axon's fingers reach out toward the receiver dendrites of other neurons but stop short of actually touching them—they just come very close. These remaining gaps, called synapses, are the ultimate conveyers of information throughout the brain.

Table of Contents

Preface ..... xi
Introduction: New Windows on Your Baby's World ..... xiii
1: Your Baby's Amazing Brain ..... 1
2: What's Love Got to Do with It? ..... 17
3: Figuring Out the World: Problem Solving ..... 31
4: Memory 101: The Foundations of Learning ..... 55
5: Baby Signs and First Words: Learning to Talk ..... 79
6: Letters, Rhymes, and Love of Books: Preparing to Read ..... 105
7: Counting Really Counts: Thinking About Numbers ..... 131
8: Scribbles, Jokes, and Imaginary Friends: Fostering Creativity ..... 157
9: Putting It All Together ..... 187
Tips Revisited ..... 193
References ..... 201
Acknowledgments ..... 205
Photo Credits ..... 207
Index ..... 209


An Interview with Linda Acredolo, coauthor of Baby Minds

Barnes & Your last book, Baby Signs, has been a huge success. What inspired you to write Baby Minds?

Linda Acredolo: There's so much scientific knowledge that reveals the hidden talents that babies have, and we felt it was a shame that more parents weren't sharing in this excitement. With Baby Minds we're hoping to help make raising babies during those first three years even more fun.

Barnes & As in Baby Signs, your approach in Baby Minds seems to be a rather gentle one.

Linda Acredolo: Oh, yes. One of the things we say is that love comes first. There is no denying that the most important way for a baby to learn is for that child to feel secure. Scientists have shown that it's an emotionally secure child that is free to explore the world. Those flashcard kinds of exercises that used to be popular as "better baby" gimmicks really are not accomplishing what they set out to do, because all too often they take away the fun. Baby Minds is designed to be fun. You hide a raisin under a cup when you're sitting in a restaurant with a fussy kid, and you play a game where the baby starts to figure out where the raisin is -- that's a practical way to stimulate development but also to make life more fun.

Barnes & There are so many baby game books out there. How does Baby Minds differ?

Linda Acredolo: One of the differences is that we're trying to educate parents as to why games are important and do it in a way that makes the discovery process interesting. And the tips we are giving in many cases you won't find in books. We're trying to give a little twist on what parents are doing already. My favorite example is videotaping. Most parents videotape their babies and young children. What very few parents realize is that your baby will enjoy and benefit enormously from sitting down with you and watching the birthday party that just happened last weekend. It's an opportunity to help the child understand about the past, present, and future and about himself or herself; and we all know babies like watching babies! It's a perfect entertainment and learning tool.

Barnes & I can think of another example of that right away from Baby Minds: Many parents hang up pictures next to their baby's changing table. You suggest hanging up pictures of objects that rhyme, to introduce children to rhyming.

Linda Acredolo: That's right, and once parents know that rhyming really serves reading, it's very easy to say, Let's pull out the nursery rhymes book, or Let's practice that in the car, or Let's hang those pictures up by the changing table. Understanding the why of it makes the information stick better for parents.

Barnes & I found the chapter on memory very interesting. It opens with an anecdote about a 2 ½ year old who goes into a dark lab and remembers when she was there once before -- when she was only six months old!

Linda Acredolo: It is absolutely astonishing. And you know, babies don't look that smart! [laughs] They look out of it. And parents have treated them that way, understandably. The reason we as a human species have accomplished so much is we've hit the ground running with so many of our skills, and parents who know that will provide the kinds of experiences that babies are looking for and are prepared for. You're not foisting these on unwilling children...these are ways to keep a child from being unhappy.

Barnes & You think that stimulation of the memory actually keeps them happy?

Linda Acredolo: I really do. Babies have a very strong desire to be with other people and to feel secure with other people. One of the reasons they want to remember, to seek out remembering kinds of activities, is that that's the way they can bond with people around them. Remembering things is not just a cognitive exercise, it's an emotional tool. That's a reason that babies love books, conversations, trying to talk about the day that just occurred. And it works the other way around too; as parents realize there's somebody home in there, they feel more connected to that child. We keep saying this is a win-win situation in many different ways.

Barnes & You write about how there are critical developmental windows in a baby's life. Will those windows close at a certain point if you don't take advantage of them?

Linda Acredolo: We are very careful to not say that. In most domains the human brain is plastic enough to learn after the first three years. Our point is you've lost an opportunity to start the child off on the whole road when he or she is ready. It's providing your baby the best head start. We know that kids can catch up if they haven't learned to count, but it's hard, and it puts them behind other kids, and it seems a shame that they have not had these things when they were ready and eager to have fun with them. This is a very rich time for the brain to develop in many areas. So take advantage of it.

Barnes & What do you mean by parents providing "scaffolds" for learning?

Linda Acredolo: The idea here, and there's a lot of research to support it, is that we all learn better when something is moderately novel. If it's overwhelmingly novel -- think about computers -- it's very difficult to take it in; if it's too familiar, it's boring. So what parents can do is make things a little bit novel by providing some of the information for the child. A wonderful example, and probably the one that all parents are familiar with, is what we do when we read books to very young babies. We say, "What's that? That's a cow. What does a cow do? A cow says moo." You play all those parts for a while, because you know the baby will just benefit from listening. Then, as the baby gets more skilled with words, you drop some of that support, some of the scaffolding. And we say, "What's that?" And the baby fills in, "That's a cow." You're providing that child the support that will make the activity fun and not overwhelming.

Barnes & I read Baby Signs a few months ago and tried a couple of signs then forgot about it for a while. Reading this book, which revisits Baby Signs, I have the same question I had then: Am I already too late? Are parents going to read this and think, Well, my baby is already two, she's already speaking, should I bother trying to do any of these things?

Linda Acredolo: We get that question a lot, especially from parents who don't hear about Baby Signs until their child is 16 or 17 months. As long as there are words your baby can't say, there's time for baby signs. Kids love animals, for example, but the word "hippopotamus" is tough. A baby sign for something like that makes sense. We try desperately in Baby Minds and in Baby Signs to point out that babies are very different. They have different agendas, they have different timetables, and they're interested in different things. So when some babies are ready to curl up and read books at 10 months, other babies are still climbing the bookshelves at 12 or 13 months! You can sense when your baby is ready for the kinds of things we're talking about. Be patient with your child.

Barnes & According to your books, using baby signs will not only encourage your baby to communicate with you now but will improve his reading skills and may even increase his IQ.

Linda Acredolo: Yes, that was research Susan [Goodwyn] and I did based on our NIH grant. At age eight, babies in our experimental group who had been exposed to baby signs -- we call them Baby Signs Alumni -- were outscoring the control babies by about 12 points, which is a very significant increase in IQ. In retrospect, we can certainly explain it, but we were shocked. It is a wonderful additional benefit of baby signs. Baby signs make them feel confident about asking questions; they start learning about the world.

Barnes & How can parents avoid feeling overwhelming pressure to do these things?

Linda Acredolo: We have a lot of sympathy for that. To be a good parent is to be an informed parent and to take as much advantage of this as you can fit in naturally. You need to feel you're providing your baby with emotional security. Once you feel good about that, you'll feel better about picking and choosing those things that seem to fit what you're already doing. It's really not this big, difficult thing we're asking parents to do. It's almost as though we're providing the scaffold for parents so that they can pick up the list of tips or reread this chapter or that section and say, I can try that. If it doesn't work today, maybe it'll work tomorrow. Many of the things we're pointing out are things parents are doing already; we're just saying twist it a little.

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