Learning In Infancy

Published on: October 23, 2019

Children are the product of their experiences in the early years of age. Learning is just like creating a jigsaw puzzle, where each piece is vital to the whole. The more they can discover and receive nurturing experiences at home, the more prepared they will be to enter childcare or pre-school and relate to the secure world their parents have shown. By Julia Gabriel During the first two years of life, a young child achieves greater milestones than at any other time. This is the time when they will learn to form attachments, ensure basic needs are met, walk, and then talk. A child also learns to meet new, or difficult situations with confidence or fear, an approach that will affect the rest of his life. 

Learning by Experience 

From birth, babies respond to sound and touch. Through the comfort and security of their parents’ love, they form attachments that are necessary for their emotional and social growth. This is the time for parents to enjoy holding their baby, touching, cuddling, and singing songs (no matter how badly they sing) to develop emotional bonds. A child who has developed a strong attachment with an adult will later be able to transfer that trust to others, and have less difficulty with separation anxiety when they first start school.  Encourage your child to feed himself as early as possible. Start as soon as they can sit up unsupported and grasp the food, spoon, or cup. They’ll soon be fully independent at mealtimes. Helping them, or preventing them from doing it on their own, may result in delayed physical skills. It may be messy at first, but the success will be well worth the effort in clearing up because your child will be more confident and capable. Independence comes with confidence and security. A child who knows that they are loved develops these qualities naturally when parents allow a child to try things on their own and learn from their mistakes. Independence depends on physical, social, and emotional skills, and expressive language skills, so it’s important to allow a child to express their needs, wants, and fears. 

Create an Environment to Nurture Learning 

Babies soon learn to focus and respond to visual stimuli. Home provides the impetus for learning through exploration and discovery. Providing a rich environment, filled with safe, attractive objects for a baby to investigate, will help them to develop. You’ll notice that a child moves towards things of interest, so provide a safe environment for them to explore. They will refine the coordination of legs and arms to balance, retrieve toys, and get onto things. They will practice hand-eye coordination skills by reaching for and grasping things. Eventually, they’ll start to build and place objects on top of each other and knock them down again. Let them run, climb and fall, refining skills as they practice them, and build the foundations for manipulation of writing instruments, coloring, cutting and pasting, all of which require precision, strength, and flexibility.  Physical success impacts language development, cognitive growth, social and emotional skills. Learning is just like creating a jigsaw puzzle. Each piece is vital to the whole. 

Helping Language Grow 

A child who is talked to, read to and sung to, is encouraged to want to talk back and will soon experiment with their sounds. They’ll progress from cooing and babbling to those magical first words, which may come faster and clearer if there is a caring adult to listen and “chat” to. The give and take of conversation is mastered long before a child can talk back in words.  It’s essential to speak to your child, from the start, in a wide range of full, unsimplified language. He/she’ll soak up the sounds, words, and structures heard. If you tell them to “wash hands” or “go pee-pee” you’re depriving them of the opportunity to store away standard English construction in their language bank for later use. Instead, ask them to “come and wash your hands” or “go to the toilet.”  It’s fun, and beneficial, to keep up a record as you do things together, describing what your baby experiences, while changing a nappy, getting dressed and eating meals. Extending children’s words into sentences helps them form sentences themselves. When he asks for “milk” try responding in full language, “Would you like some milk?”  Talking down to a child, using baby language, or simplifying sentences, limits your child’s vocabulary, prevents them from absorbing language patterns and delays his understanding of sentence structure and grammar. 

Creativity, Imagination, Wonder 

Take your baby out and about and let them explore the world in a safe and trusting manner. A child who has felt the wind on their face and in their hair will find a way to express it physically, by waving arms or running energetically from one end of the room to the other. As they grow, they will refine their communication, using a combination of actions and words, until vocabulary grows and they can communicate using speech and, eventually, writing.  A child who feels wet sand under their feet will know how different it feels from dry sand and will be able to contrast them using language. However, a child whose experiences have been limited has a diminished ability to express themselves. Drama, music, stories, theatre, messy craft, painting, clay, water, sand, climbing, running and outings to explore the world, will all release your child’s creative side, allowing him to imagine, feel and express himself. 

Books are Windows to Learning 

Even the youngest babies enjoy sharing books with an adult and start labeling things they see. By reading stories, poems, and finger play rhymes, you can expose young children to a wide range of good language. It is known that children who are read to regularly are likely to continue the pattern and become good readers themselves. During the first two years of life, arrange a daily, predictable, reading routine to ensure that reading is part of a child’s life. Exposure extends vocabulary, interests, imagination, awareness, and language structure.   We are so lucky to share in the amazing learning that takes place in the first few years, watching a unique individual grow. These years pass so quickly! Enjoy them!    Images by Minnie Zhou and Ryan Fields on Unsplash.

About the Author

Julia Gabriel Julia Gabriel founded Julia Gabriel Centre in Singapore in 1983 and was an accomplished early learning and speech & drama teacher, author, storyteller, speaker, and lecturer. She graduated with Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Early Childhood Education from the University of South Australia. Julia was an Honorary Fellow of Guildhall School of Music & Drama and was awarded life membership of the school for her services to the field of speech and drama. 
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