Is there any point in cramming into a few-month-old child
such concepts as numbers, shapes, colors, or is it enough to
cushion his way in life with warmth, love and stability,
which are considered critical in his development? Annette
Krimloff-Smith, a researcher who studied the habits and
development of hundreds of babies, presents a different
approach in her book: "Your Child: Experience and
Intelligence." In her opinion, a mother must not lightly
dismiss the learning power of babies, but supply them with
mental stimulation in order to promote their intellectual
development and the molding of their personality.
Every new mother knows that nothing can compare to warmth and
affection in raising a normal, well integrated child. The
current opinion holding sway in parenting courses maintains
that if one wants to produce a mentally healthy, balanced
child, one must envelop him with infinite love, moral support
and warmth, since any lack of these emotional factors can
impair the normal development of the child and undermine his
The more affection parents shower upon their children, the
less they are apt to feel guilty about their role as
effective parents. While a child certainly needs much love --
and no one denies this -- still, it is not clear whether love
can also develop a child in other areas, such as speech and
communication and other phases of intellectual
"Did you ever see a child who does not talk, or learn to
count and read, eventually, even if his parents do not hover
about him solicitously 24 hours a day?" asks a mother in a
self-convincing tone. Her friend avidly buys the latest books
on child development as soon as they hit the bookstores. She
sings educational songs to her child and plays didactic games
with her involving shapes and colors. "I want to be sure that
I am doing the maximum towards her development. Sure, all
children eventually develop, but there's a difference between
a skimpy, poor development and an enriched one. It all
depends on the willpower and drive of the parents."
As soon as her baby was old enough, she enrolled him in a
cheder nursery and at the age of three, not satisfied
with the standard education he was receiving, she sent him to
a private reading group which she, herself, organized and
manned with a talented melamed who was willing to
undertake the project. At the age of five she enrolled him in
a music course. "I don't intend him to make a career of
music, G-d forbid, but at this age music can definitely
enrich him from many aspects." While she may have taken his
mental and scholastic development far too seriously,
researchers feel that she was most instrumental in upgrading
his social, personal and scholastic growth.
Is there a valid point to all this effort? The question can
be asked in a more extreme manner: what is more important: to
shower a child with oodles of love or to provide intellectual
The latest theory maintains that the one complements the
other. If, in the past, we thought that love could develop a
child and compensate for lack of intellectual stimulation,
today it is clear that mental stimulation initiated by the
parents are not any less decisive in developing a child's
mind and molding his personality.
Annette Krimlof-Smith, a scientific researcher who has
monitored the development of hundreds of babies, leaves no
room for doubt. She insists that without intellectual
stimulation initiated by the parents, the normal emotional
and social development of a child can be lacking. A child is
most likely to be missing the necessary tools to handle
oneself in one's environment.
In her book, which immediately became a best-seller, she
brings the results of a unique study of the first three years
of a child, which assist not only in enabling us to see
through the child's looking glass but also to understand his
demands, capabilities and potential and the conclusions which
his parents must necessarily arrive at regarding their
handling of his development.
Children Are Born to Learn
The two primary conclusions are:
1. A baby is not as helpless as we think.
One must not lightly regard the intellectual capacity of an
infant and his ability to learn, absorb and progress. "We
always tend to think that infancy is a period of helplessness
and play," she notes. "But what appears to the adult as an
innocent gesture or a game is serious work and initiative on
the part of the baby, since it is motivated by a strong
internal urge to beome a creature that is mobile and can
manipulate tools, talk and think and interact in the full
sense of the word."
2. Whoever sows - shall reap.
The development of an infant is a constant interaction
between the child's brain, which is constantly taking shape,
and his attempts to handle himself in the world. At birth,
the brain contains all of the tens of billions of brain cells
which he will require in the course of his entire lifetime.
Millions upon millions of connections will be made, all as a
result of his grappling with the daily problems he faces.
Babies are not passive creatures, she stresses. They take a
very active part in their own development, and are born with
the innate power to learn -- straight from birth. They are
constantly absorbing information, and the more one takes
pains to enrich and stimulate their senses in a variety of
ways, the more results are apparent. The effort pays, she
sums up. One must summon all of one's resources for the
massive input, in order to reap the output.
Experience is the Architect of the Mind
Dr. Erica Landau, the scientific consultant of the book, is a
psychotherapist and the director of an institute for the
creative advancement of youth. She vests the parents with the
bulk of the responsibility for the successful development of
"I once asked a brilliant girl of six how she came to know
all that she knows," Dr. Landau tells in the beginning of her
book. "In all seriousness, she replied. `It began when my
father used to pick me up, hold me tight in his arms, and
point to something and ask me, `What's that?' And he would
provide the answer himself, `That's a light fixture.' And he
would continue on, `And what's that?' `That's a window.' He
showed me the things he wanted me to see, and when I grew a
little and saw something, I asked him and he would answer.
This is how I learned about all the things I know.'"
What was this little girl trying to tell us? First of all,
that she was being held in her father's arms, that is, she
felt the security of his love. Second, that he used to point
to things, and in this way she became aware of all the things
around her. Third, that he posed questions. He roused her
curiosity before pumping her full of information. When she
grew, she felt free to ask questions about all kinds of
things in her environment. Her curiosity had been developed
to a keen edge.
This, says Dr. Landau, is the ideal combination for the
development of intelligence: stability, confidence and
realization of a child's potential from age zero by
broadening his horizons.
A parent directly influences his child's development and
behavior. He must be aware of this. Today it is clear to
researchers that an infant is not born as a genetically
programmed automaton, but neither is it a blank sheet which
is completely exposed to every imprint in its environment.
The ancient controversy of heredity versus environment has
long ago been resolved. It is clear to scientists that a
child's development is affected by an interactive
relationship which takes place between the genes and the
environment. Heredity has a dominant role, but one cannot
ignore the stimulation and environmental support that can
turn the picture upside down.
The sum of a baby's experiences she calls "the architect of
the brain," since action is able to change the brain in a
phenomenal way and create neural interaction between the
cells. In other words, brain activity serves to continue to
develop the brain.
One scientist compared this to a telephone exchange with many
wire hookups. Parents and educators have the main job of
providing the stimulation and the quality input, which is not
necessarily quantitative, since each stimulation creates tens
of thousands of linkups and interchanges.
Music and Reading
After we have understood the importance of warmth coupled
with intellectual stimulation and input, we are advised to
know a child's potential capacity and what he can achieve at
When an infant is born, he is already familiar with many
types of sounds. His auditory system is almost as well
developed as that of an adult. It takes no more than 3-4 days
for him to recognize his mother's voice and to distinguish
its tone and timber from the voices of other people.
As far as communication, infants are not at a loss, even
before they have developed language skills. They are capable
of distinguishing music before they understand speech.
At four days, they can already differentiate between their
mother tongue (literally) and other languages spoken around
them. A baby born in England may not be able to tell the
difference between French and Spanish, but he can definitely
distinguish between English and French, English and Hebrew.
An infant, say the scientists, can distinguish the 150
different types of sound that appear in all of human speech.
In other words, he is actually born `multilingual'.
Up till the end of his first year, this marvelous capacity
tends to disappear; the synapses in the brain which control
the distinction of sounds of speech slowly atrophy, since he
is only exposed to his mother's tongue.
To the degree that a child's development is promoted and
molded, in such proportion are the synapses in his brain
expanded and the processes of cerebral maturity will affect
all of his motor abilities, his attention span, memory and
grasp. Parents must become active partners in these stages.
One must naturally not go to extremes in overtaxing the brain
with stimulation while ignoring the basic aspect of attention-
giving and warmth, since this will defeat the purpose on a
double account. Erica Landau succinctly expresses this
pitfall, "It is important to stress that the primary thing
remains, as always, love. But here, too, it is quality that
counts more than quantity." It is parental love that must
guide parents in developing their children and drawing the
most out of them, not only through intellectual stimulation
but through emotional stimulation.