Early Childhood Development

From Blob to Baby to Bustling, Bouncing Toddler

When a baby is born, behind those chubby cheeks is a surprisingly large head which contains almost all the brain cells or neurons that it will ever need, and more. From the moment baby enters the world, to bright lights and warm hands, she starts to shape and mould and prune those neurons into billions of connections and pathways which will help her to process the world, learn about and make sense of it and ultimately to work with and manipulate it.

As an expectant Mom I thought I knew what to expect. I had seen babies and held babies, and of course I have expert knowledge on childhood development! But, I was unprepared for how very helpless my little bundle was when she arrived. When I thought about this twitchy, sleepy, eating, pooping, but otherwise inert little creature one day solving maths problems, navigating relationships and driving a car, the work we had to do to get her from “Squirmy-wormy” (yes, the poor children have had many unflattering nicknames) to fully functioning adult seemed massively overwhelming. Not only did I come to this frightening realisation, but the glorious world of the “www” and, of course, marketing material galore suggested that any wrong move or moment of negligence could spell the end to my child’s optimal development!

Luckily, common sense, some expert knowledge and an eye for good literature helped me to take a deep breath and realise three very important things:

  1. Yes, baby does need stimulation and of course, you must play an active part in that, BUT, and this is big BUT, for a tiny little creature with a mess of tangled, unconnected neurons, EVERYTHING is stimulating.
  2. Diversity is key. I want my child to develop fully in a wide range of things. Given that there are only 24 hours in a day (most of which is spent sleeping when you’re under the age of 2), surely a variety of broad reaching activities, rather than highly complicated specialised individual activities, is going to cover the most ground (more on this in my next post).
  3. It’s actually quite hard to get it wrong. Our DNA as humans hard wires us to learn and grow and develop. And not only this, but our brains are hardwired to do this largely from simple exposure to our environment in the early years. While of course extra input from mom, dad and caregivers can help to boost this, it does mean that, in reality, you don’t need to do much more than be an attentive, holding, responsive parent with your own interest in the world around you and an interest in seeing the world through your child’s eyes. After that, a lot will come naturally, and a lot will be a bonus.

So, with this insight, I was comforted and found I could let myself off the hook a bit. While of course making time to have focussed play and stimulation with both my children is a priority, on those days where there are errands to run and chores to do and no time for focussed play and stimulation, I can remind myself that even a trip to the grocery store is a wealth of learning for a small one. That watching mom cook can be a masterclass in all kinds of development for a toddler and that sometimes, being left to roam the garden while tired, grumpy mom has a cup of coffee on the veranda is the best learning experience of all.

In my next post I will explain a little bit about how mundane every day activities can be learning experiences.