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Education should start in infancy

12:06 AM March 15, 2017

In the study called the Carolina Abecedarian Project, involving 122 children who were recruited in the 1970s and tracked until they were in their 30s by a group headed by Dr. Frances Campbell of the University of North Carolina in the United States, it was shown that a full-day child care program for the first five years resulted in adults with better metabolic, cardiovascular health, raised earnings, better education, and reduced crime rate.

A control group of about the same number of children who did not receive such early education had poor health, education, and income, and higher crime rate.

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What is most surprising is that the men in the study group showed lower blood pressure (126 mm mercury) than those in the control group (143). Also, one in four in the control group was afflicted with obesity and diabetes.

In the mid 1990s, I started a program at my pediatric office in Bangor, Maine. I called it the “Smart Baby Program” because of my interest in early brain development. I had a gut feeling that teaching parents how the brain develops and works would help their children later in school and also reduce behavior problems.

Up to now, both in the United States and the Philippines, it is not yet standard practice to teach infants how to count and add. But I said to myself then that it would not do any harm if I taught parents how to demonstrate simple counting of their fingers to their baby.

With this idea, I requested a mother of a month-old baby during a routine visit to show her right index finger pointing up about 10 inches from her baby’s eyes then say “one.” Then she should turn her index finger horizontally, say “one,” and point her finger down, and say “one” again. After these three finger motions, she should swipe the left cheek of her baby once and say “one.” Then clap once, and say “one.”

I told her to perform this activity at least four times a day for one month. Then, when her baby was two months old, she should show two fingers—index and middle fingers—and say “two,” doing the same steps applying to “one.” And every month she should add one finger to make it “three,” “four,” “five,” and so on until she reached 10.

During the visit of a 6-month-old, I requested the mother to do the “apple and orange” experiment: Show a red apple in her right hand about 10 inches from the baby’s eyes, say “apple, apple, apple” then bring it near the nose so the baby can smell it, and say “apple” again three times. Then let the baby touch the apple, saying “apple” each time he or she touched it. Do the same thing with an orange. A couple of months later, the mother should show an apple and an orange in each hand and say, “Where is the apple?”

The finger counting and “apple and orange” showing made up the foundation of my “Smart Baby Program.”

To help millions of children from poor families, we should embark on a national health and educational program to be implemented by public healthcare nurses, midwives, and primary care physicians. They should teach pregnant mothers, as well as parents of children younger than three years old, how the brain develops in addition to their current health teaching.

Also: Most pregnant mothers are not aware that emotional stress can damage some parts of the brain. A child whose mother was anxious during pregnancy is more likely to have ADHD and language delay.

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A pregnant mother should avoid excessive consumption of cassava, cabbage, cauliflower, and other such foods that reduce the thyroid hormone. Low thyroid hormone in the mother’s blood, which goes to the fetus’ brain, can lead to mental retardation or language delay.

Dr. Leonardo L. Leonidas ([email protected] gmail.com) retired in 2008 as assistant clinical professor in pediatrics from Boston’s Tufts University School of Medicine, where he was recognized with a Distinguished Career in Teaching Award in 2009. He is a 1968 graduate of the University of the Philippines College of Medicine and now spends some of his time in the province of Aklan.

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TAGS: child development, children, Commentary, education, infancy, opinion
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