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Studies: Babies' first months
crucial to brain development

Einstein April 17, 1997
Web posted at: 5:32 p.m. EDT (2132 GMT)

From Correspondent Pat Etheridge

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- When does an infant's capacity for learning begin? The answer to the age-old question may lie in new scientific evidence that indicates the experiences of babies' first days and months have a decisive impact on their brains and on what kind of adults they will become.

"The first three years of life are incredibly important," said Julie Clark, a former teacher and now full-time mother of a 2-year-old girl. "We know now that babies are really in desperate need of stimulation."

And Clark is putting her words into action by working with her baby, Aspen, on a daily routine of mind-enhancing games that could spur critical connections in the baby's brain. Clark has even developed a video, Baby Einstein, believed to be one of the first videos for infants aged 1 to 12 months old.

Hugs, songs and bedtime stories

Clark's motivation stems from scientific studies that have revealed infants' brains to be as sophisticated as the most advanced computers, a vast sponge able to absorb complex information. Hugs, songs, bedtime stories and playtime all help promote a healthy childhood.

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A report by the New York-based Families and Work Institute found that during the first three years of life, the vast majority of the brain's synapses -- or connections among brain cells -- are formed. The ways in which parents and other caregivers relate with children during that formative period directly affect the child's emotional development and their ability to handle stress as adults, the report concluded.

Stanley Greenspan, author of "The Growth of the Mind," said, "A baby comes into the world with their brain only partially formed, and Mother Nature leaves it to caregivers to finish the job."

Spreading the word

The task now is to disseminate the information to the public. President Clinton and the first lady hosted a massive symposium Thursday dedicated to "talking about baby talk." Other groups, like "I Am Your Child," are working to spread the word.

Movie director Rob Reiner appeared on CNN and spoke of his work with "I Am Your Child." He said the group's job is "letting people know that what happens to their children in the first three years of their lives in terms of their brain development is critical."

"It is the critical time period when the brain develops and grows to 90 percent of its adult size," Reiner said.

 
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