Protect, nurture your baby's brain

While we always have known that a baby's first years were important, we now are learning from many sources how important the early years of a child's life are. One study brings added emphasis to this fact.

The Carnegie Corporation of New York found the following:

_ Brain development before age 1 is more rapid and extensive than previously realized.

_ Brain development is much more vulnerable to environmental influence than suspected.

_ The influence of early environment on brain development is long-lasting.

_ Environment affects the number of brain cells, connections among them and the way connections are wired.

_ Early stress has a negative impact on brain function.

Each of these facts stresses the need to be sure that each child has a good start in life. Opportunities for learning need to begin right away because a baby is ready and needs to be stimulated to keep his capacity for maximum intellectual growth. In reality, if he doesn't use it, he loses it. The study also found that stress has a huge negative impact on the child.

Babies are born with billions of brain cells. During the first months of life, connections between these cells are constantly multiplying. Cells and the connections between cells that are not being used quit working.

For this reason, the baby needs to have a chance to be stimulated from his very earliest months. Stimulating the child doesn't mean teaching the child. But it does mean taking time with him, reading to him, putting him on your lap and talking to him.

It means spending time ... "not just quality time but also quantity time."

The evidence continues to accumulate. You are your child's most important teacher. What you do today does affect how your child will do tomorrow.

Cynthia Martin is the founder of the First Teacher program and now director of Parenting Matters Foundation. The foundation publishes newsletters for parents, caregivers and grandparents. Reach Martin at or at 681-2250.

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