Monday, August 25, 2008

Brain Child

I read Tony Buzan’s Brain Child before I even conceived. It was at one of those chaotic book warehouse sales and a bright blue book caught my eye. The tagline: How Smart Parents Make Smart Kids intrigued me. So I bought it, just for information.
I found it really easy to read and the information eye-opening. Tony Buzan, of the Mind Maps fame, breaks it down in really simple terms for any parent who wants to nurture their child and help their mental development.
The mental development spoken of here is not about getting straight As or being a genius; he talks about making smart kids in every sense. I call it the whole enchilada: street smart, socially smart, senses smart, books smart, family smart, relationship smart, feelings smart. And that really appealed to me.
At the time, I thought if and when I had a child, I want all those things for her. I didn’t want a child who tops her classes but is socially awkward, or is a spoilt brat.
The book starts by explaining the vast potential of a child’s brain. It then goes on to explain how a parent can nurture a child’s multiple intelligences: verbal (language), numerical (numbers), engineering/spatial (three-dimensional world of geometry, meteorology, etc), sensual (5 senses), body (coordination and physical ability), creative, personal, social and spiritual.
Each chapter in the book ends with suggestions of things you can do with your child to develop certain aspects of their brain. Each chapter also gives excellent examples of a brain child in action. The book does not specify which age group of children it is writing about, although each chapter comes with excellent real life examples concerning kids and their parents. Most give the age of the children talked about, but the beauty of the book is it leaves the age wide open. Which is another message Buzan sends: all the findings and suggestions are not age-specific, they are kid-specific. Each child develops at her own rate, and therefore there is no use force-feeding them any kind of concept before they are ready.
Although I read this book before I had a child, there are a few things that stuck with me and I applied when my daughter was born. They are:

It says a baby is inborn with their own temperature control, and their feet are incredibly tough and resilient. It talks about traditional Japanese martial arts masters who can sit naked in the snow the whole night, controlling their body temperatures and at dawn, there would be a dry patch around them. Our body loses this natural ability to control our temperature because we wear too much! So when my daughter was born, despite my mother’s protests that she needs to be bundled up with three layers of clothing and wear hand and feet mittens throughout the day, I dressed her comfortably in 100% cotton clothing and freed her hands and feet. The only exception was when she was first born, when I did bundle her up, for I read in another book that newborns lose body heat rapidly and need to be kept warm. But from the time she was two to three days old, and I could see that she was happy and thriving, I freed her contraints. And till today, my daughter (she’s turning three this year) has never had cold feet, even with the air conditioner at full blast and both her father and I shivering next to her. Warm as toast!

It talks about how a baby is learning the whole time, even when she is tearing apart a piece of paper and stuffing it into her mouth. ESPECIALLY when she is tearing apart a piece of paper and stuffing it into her mouth. It is "a complete little Madame Curie or Isaac Newton appying the complete Scientific Method immaculately!"
She waves the paper around to see what sounds it makes. She then pulls it apart to test the tensile strength of the material. Lastly she stuffs it into the ultimate chemical laboratory to see if it’s edible. And all in the span of 5 seconds. This example completely changed the way I looked at babies and subsequently, my own child. What people mistake for a lack of concentration is really just that, a mistake. It takes the baby only 5 seconds to determine whether the paper is of interest, and she moves on to other things once she finds out. So it’s not lack of concentration you should be worried about, it’s finding enough stuff for her to explore.
It made me a better and more relaxed mother, for I never worried about my daughter’s attention span. I just let it happen naturally when she grew and spent more time on one thing, like reading a picture book for 5 minutes at 9 months instead of looking at it for only 2 seconds and then chewing on it eagerly at 6 months. In either case, she was learning, not at the pace I dictate, but entirely her own.

It says a baby cannot differentiate between ‘easy’ and ‘difficult’ words as we adults know them. So, there is no need to dumb things down for them. From day one, I spoke to my daughter like a person, not a baby. The coochichoo sounds were inevitable, of course, because she was and still is so darn cute! But I always spoke to her like she understood everything.
When I changed her nappy, I told her it was because she was wet and I wanted her to be comfortable. When I fed her milk, I told her it was because she needed milk to grow big and strong.
Then when she was more alert and awake for longer periods of time, I started signing to her. This is from the book Baby Signs. More on that in another post. I would make the sign for hungry and say the word hungry. And I used normal adult words most of the time.
When my daughter was ready, she started ‘talking’ in signs first, then went straight on to proper words. I have never heard any baby talk from her. Only when she is older, she started making up words of her own, but this was when she was already talking in complete sentences, so the made-up words were more her cheeky ways than anything. Now, she uses words like ‘actually’, ‘comfortable’, ‘maybe later’, ‘I don’t understand why...’, and more in sentences.

It says never give an empty threat. Don’t say you’ll punish her, and then NOT do it. Punishing doesn’t mean spanking or anything sinister. It could be something simple like not letting her play with her blocks.
I tried this when my daughter started playing with crayons. I got her those large mahjong papers (in white) to scribble on when she was 1.5 years old. By then, she understood what she could and couldn’t do. The first few times, she couldn’t control the crayons so much and she would inadvertently scribble outside of the paper onto the floor. Each time, I guided her hand back to the paper and told her she cannot draw on the floor.
After a few months, she gained more dexterity and could control her crayons pretty well. I saw she was now deliberately drawing on the floor and looking at me to see my reaction. So I told her if she did it again, I would take the crayons away. True enough, she scribbled from the paper onto the floor. So I took the crayons away. She just looked at me and went on to play something else.
The next day, we drew again. I reminded her not to draw on the floor, or I would again take the crayons away. And she didn’t! Till today, she doesn’t draw on the floor.
I have applied this to many areas, and each time I issued a threat, I made sure I carry it out. You will find after a few times with different scenarios, she gets the message: Mommy is serious when she uses that tone.
I will always give her a warning before taking action. I will tell her first that what she did was wrong and if she did it again, I would take X away. Of course, I only use it for things within her control, like not throwing the ball hard at people, or not throwing her toys around, and NEVER for other stuff like messing up her clothes during meal times or soiling herself when she first started potty training. And I usually do it when only her and I are there. I make sure I never belittle her when other people are around.
Now that I am rereading this book to do this review, I found other little gems that I have forgotten. Time to revisit the Brain Child. Watch this space.


Stace said...

Makes me want to go out and buy the book straight away!!!

Monkee said...

Thanks for sharing this! It's really interesting. I really found 'The Senses' particularly fascinating. Sorry it took me this long to discover your blog.

Elaine said...

Haha! Better late than never:P Glad you like it:)

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