Early Scope

Did you know even newborns go for classes?

TNN | Aug 30, 2015, 10.02 AM IST

A group of parents, mostly young mothers, sit in a circle in a bright room, rocking their infants and occasionally cooing to them as nursery rhymes play in the background. After some time, the mothers start massaging their babies, after which the instructor gives them flash cards with big, colourful pictures, which the mums display to their kids, mouthing words like "ball", "sheep"and "house." 

Believe it or not, this is a "class" of a kind -a sensory developmental programme called Baby Sensory for extremely young children -we are talking infants between the ages of zero months and 13 months. The programme focuses on activities such as listening to musical patterns, massages, learning sign language and exposing babies to different colours and textures. "There is a certain logic behind each of the activities. For instance, it is proved that listening to musical patterns is an early exposure to mathematical patterns.Babies who start signing have a better aptitude for languages, according to research," says Anju Cherian, director of AJ Plackal Eduventures Pvt Ltd, which owns the master franchise for Baby Sensory in India. 

"A child develops the most in the first five years of its life, and parents can make all the difference. Bonding is important, and this is a parent-child programme," says Cherian. Baby Sensory, devised by a UK-based parenting expert Dr Lin Day , has seen an enthusiastic response from parents in Bengaluru, especially its centre in Whitefield, where expat and NRI parents are more aware of such classes. Since its launch a few months ago, the Whitefield centre has seen 100 enrolments, while Banashankari and Koramangala centres have 50 each. 

In India, the concept of admitting infants to any kind of structured "class" is practically unheard of. Even paediatricians and child psychologists are not very familiar with the concept, and are often divided in their views of whether this kind of intervention is necessary or even desirable. 

However, research done in the West does show that the first three years of life are a period of incredible growth in all ar eas of a baby's development. By age 3, a child's brain grows dramatically by producing billions of cells and hundreds of trillions of connections, or synapses, between these cells. Dr Alison Gopnik, a psychologist at UC Berkeley and the author of The Scientist in the Crib: Minds, Brains, and How Children Learn, says a number of compelling research studies show how fast very young children's brains develop and how parents can use that information to enhance their children's early development. 

Viswanathan Ramakrishnan, founder of Magic Crate, a provider of developmental activity kits, feels there is no such thing as "too young." While his company currently provides activity kits based on art, science and design for children between the ages of 4 and 8, they are developing kits for younger children between the ages of 2.5 and 4 years, and could go lower if there seems to be a market. "In nuclear families, parents, especially first-time parents, are often clueless about how to provide adequate mental stimulation to their children. In the times of joint families, children were exposed to many kinds of activities that aided multisensorial growth. But these days, parents don't know how to engage their infants meaningfully," says Viswanathan. 

He feels there can be no harm in exposing infants to sensorial information as long as this is done effectively . It is well-known that the brain development growth curve is very sharp at this age, especially with respect to languages, and the more information you expose young children to, the more beneficial it is to them, he adds. "The only problem is these activities tend to be very parent-led. One cannot leave a 6-month-old with special toys or flash cards and expect her to figure things out on her own.The question is whether parents, and this mostly becomes a mother's responsibility , have the time to engage her child intellectually after taking care of its daily needs, which in itself can be quite timetaking at this stage," he says. 

Vrunda Bansode, co-founder of Cloud Mentor, a company that creates workshop-based activity modules for children, also agrees that mental stimulation and exposure are good for children, even very young ones. However, she expresses doubt about whether one needs structured activities to provide this, and says that doing so could even limit the child's imagination."Very small children almost never play in a structured, planned manner. They prefer free exploration, and to them it does not matter whether you give them a fancy, expensive car or a box that they use as a car," says Bansode, who is in favour of providing kids with lots of different materials and minimal guidance. "In fact, I would say that being left to themselves improves children's imagination as they learn to use the same material in different ways.They are creative by nature and open-ended exploration -learning by touching, feeling, building and breaking -without being constantly instructed and restricted is possibly the best way ."

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