Monday 1 August 2011

Lessons from 'Raise a Little Thinker'

As I mentioned previously, I was invited to attend the Raise a Little Thinker: The Smart Parenting Congress 2011 last Saturday held at Raffles City Convention Centre.

Raise a Little Thinker @ Raffles City Convention Centre

I learnt a lot but I'm just going to share a summary. If you know me (the academic and C-personality me), I could go all out with the details and there won't be a single detail I would leave out (not on purpose anyway) but that would mean this post could go on and on forever so I won't do that. Instead, I will only bring you a summary and leave the details for future posts =)

Lesson 1: Brain Development in the 1st 6 Years of Life
by Dr Phuah Huan Kee, Pediatrician at Mount Elizabeth Medical Centre

Dr Phuah Huan Hee

The main message that I got from Dr Phuah is that brain development is at its peak during the 1st 3 years of life.

Synapse Sprouting & Rapid Brain Development
(Photo capture of Dr Phuah's slides courtesy of Belle @ Fun Parenthood)

Three amazing things happen in / to our brains:
1) Synapse sprouting
Synapses at 2 years old equivalent to synapses at adulthood (see above picture part I). And we all know that synapses occur when we use the brain for learning. More learning, more synapses.

2) Improved myelination
Put simply, myelin speed up the conduction of nerve impulses in the brain (which is interpreted by me as the more myelination in the brain, the faster I can say, "Ah I get it!")

3) Super rapid brain growth
A human brain grows to 80% of the adult size in the first 3 years (see above picture part II). This explains why infants and toddlers have bigger heads than their bodies can carry them. And also why it takes a baby giraffe only 5 minutes to learn how to walk while a human infant requires 10-18 months.

There are also critical periods for certain brain development. A critical period is defined as a time during an organism’s life span when it is more sensitive to environmental influences or stimulation than at other times during its life.

Critical Periods for Brain Development
(Photo capture of Dr Phuah's slides courtesy of Belle @ Fun Parenthood)

As you can see in the picture above, the critical period for most major functioning like social skills and language occur in the 1st 6-7 years of life. Hence, it is important to stimulate young children's brain as much as possible in this very short window of opportunity where they are the most sensitive to stimulation.

Lesson 2: Children are Geniuses!
by Janet Doman

Janet Doman

Janet Doman urges us to raise BIG thinkers and problem solvers. The way to do that is to teach them because little children just love to learn. They're not like stubborn teenagers who fight you tooth and nail when you try to get them off their computer game and onto their homework. Children learn, because they have to. It is a survival skill!

Learning is not education. Learning begins at birth while education begins at 6 (or in kiasu Singapore, at 2-3 years old).

And the magic is not in the method, it is in the child! As the brain grows by use, parents have to learn to give our children visual, auditory and tactile stimulation.

Don't be afraid that you will overwhelm your child. They are geniuses! If a language is presented in the child's environment within the 1st 7 years of their life, that child will be able to pick up that language. So if he listens to 3 languages at home, he speaks 3 languages. If he listens to 5 languages, he will speak 5 languages! If he listens to @#$%, then he will speak.. erm yeah, you get what I mean.

Hence, it's so important how we talk to our kids. Don't use 'fake' words to replace the actual words! For example, instead of 'boo boo', say 'bruise' or 'abrasion'. Instead of 'mum mum' (which means food), say the actual name of the food that you are going to feed your baby. Really, how are our children going to increase their vocabulary if we keep using fake words to replace actual ones (I'm guilty of that too).

You are your child's best teacher because, a) you know him the best and b) you love him the most. Find out what your child likes and do it. It's that simple.

Lesson 3: Importance of Nutrition in Brain Development
by Dr Nancy Tan, Pediatrician at Gleneagles Hospital

Dr Nancy Tan

Nutrition play a large part in the development of the brain.

This is because poly-unsaturated fatty acids (such as omega 6 & omega 3), which are vital for brain development, can't be produced by the body. They have to be taken in via the food we eat.

We all know the importance of DHA in our baby's diet but very often, we neglect the iron, which is just as important. Many children are iron deficient (without their parent's realizing it as its symptoms are not obvious) and this deficiency could affect their mental, motor and social development.

Food Sources of Iron
(Photo capture of Dr Tan's slides courtesy of Belle @ Fun Parenthood)

Bottom line: Don't neglect your child's diet and nutrition. Get them to eat balanced meals that are full of variety.

Lesson 4: Read to Your Kids!
by Petrina Kow, celebrity mum & professional voice-over.

Petrina Kow

She is an advocate of reading to your children at least once everyday (which I do yay!). It's a great time to bond with your child while your child increases their vocabulary and learns valuable lessons from the stories. Kills two birds with one stone if you ask me!

All in all, the greatest thing I took home from the seminar was the importance of building your child's language ability from young! This was something that I had known all along due to my psychology background as well as my years of experience as a tuition teacher to primary and secondary school students ages 8 to 16 years old.

I usually teach both English, Maths and Science to my students and have often found that language was the hardest to get a great improvement. They could come to me with a F in Science or Maths and I could help them turn it into a A or B in just 6 months but I hardly have the same success with English. And this is understadable since we learnt that language acquisition is the greatest in the first 7 years of life.

Hence, please don't neglect language, especially the 2nd language! Maths and Science can wait, but language can't. Speak properly to your child and expect him/her to do the same. I was personally so inspired I went out and got more storybooks, especially in Chinese, for baby girl. She really likes them. In fact, she likes them so much, she'll crawl/walk enthusiastically over to me whenever I hold out the books and holler for her to come. Will definitely get more books =)

"Language is the blood of the soul into which thoughts run & out of which they grow." -- Oliver Wendell Holmes (1809-1894) American author and poet.

Disclosure: A media invitation to this event was received from Abbott Nutrition for the purposes of this review. No monetary compensation was received; all opinions are my own.
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