Monday, April 12, 2004

Raising a superbaby

Good news. Quebeckers are much less likely to spank than most Canadian parents. (Their children, that is.)

Quebeckers were also less likely than most Canadians to agree that using flashcards and playing classical music for young children boosts their intelligence — an opinion that is backed up by researchers who say there is no concrete evidence that either of these activities has such a benefit.

I'm not sure I qualify as a Quebecker yet, but as far as parenting goes, I fit right in.

You heard me say it here, folks: flashcards are idiotic.

As for classical music, I listen to a lot of it, because I like it, and Helena seems to like it, not because "it's good for the baby." We listen to the real stuff, not baby toy piano renditions. Mozart? Overrated. Bach for the mathematical perfection, Beethoven for the emotional gut-wrenching experience. Erik Satie to melt the world away, Philip Glass just because it's cool. I don't think classical music boosts anyone's intelligence. However, exposure to a vast array of music no doubt contributes to an individual's ability to appreciate music (whether its theoretical structure, or as a social event) and general well-roundedness.

(I might add that Seven Nation Army (The White Stripes) is the very best song ever to wash dishes by. Helena agrees.)

Quebec differs probably because it "is the only province in Canada that has made a commitment to early-childhood education, and not just to daycare. Every subsidized daycare in the province follows a formal, age-appropriate curriculum, even small, home-based ones."

There's a new and improved developmental roadmap to you child's brain in the works. I can appreciate the need to know your child is "normal," but frankly I don't see the worth of this project to parents, the majority of which are simply insecure.

Since human development is so individual, and all babies and children develop at their own rates, the researchers expect to find some variability in brain development. They want to define the range of development that is normal.

Meanwhile, other research suggests that children have critical windows of opportunity in which to develop certain skills.

[Dr Cynadar] is trying to pinpoint exactly what happens in the brain during critical windows; he wants to understand the architecture and find a biochemical signature that could easily be detected using modern brain-imaging techniques. Meanwhile, other researchers are charting which parts of the brain engage with math or with poetry, and which are used for getting jokes or irony. If they could combine that with the ability to measure when each bit of brain was at its most plastic, scientists might be able to tell if a child was better off studying, say, fractions or Spanish at any given time.

I'd like to think that their results won't affect my parenting in the least, that by "instinct" I will know what my child is ready for.

The most reassuring article in The Globe and Mail's series on early child development is telling parents to chill out.

"A child's mind is an amazing place," his mother says.

No scientist would disagree with that. But more and more researchers have begun to question the hyper, if earnest, attempts of parents to cram as much into those brains, early and fast, as they can.

Well, thank goodness. Now if they could say it a little louder. . .

Far from the flashcard flurry on the store shelves, modern research on the subject has gone retro, back to the days of crayons, reading under blanket forts and safaris in the backyard. The geneticist, studying how environment interacts with genes, recommends nurturing. The neuroscientist, examining the growth of brain-cell networks, advises playful new experiences. The language expert urges lots and lots of chatter. Meanwhile, new research is making some unexpected connections between social skills and academic success, between play and conversation and creative thinking.

All of which really translates into an endorsement for parents to rely on their instincts.

Instincts! Yay! I have those. So I don't need to feel guilty about being lazy for not reading parenting books, or about not worrying that Helena wasn't walking yet (The horror! All our parent friends told us not to worry about her not walking, which implied we should've been worrying. It turns out she was well within normal range. When she did start walking, within days she mastered what the developmental charts call the finer points of mobility.).

I can simply listen to the voice inside my head (so long as I block out the voices of all the crazy people I know).

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