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From the Trade Paperback edition.
Barnes & Noble.com: 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 & Noble.com: 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 & Noble.com: 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 & Noble.com: 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 & Noble.com: 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 & Noble.com: 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 & Noble.com: 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 & Noble.com: 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 & Noble.com: 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 & Noble.com: 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 & Noble.com: 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.
Posted September 12, 2012