Written by Dr Jane Williams
For those attending Baby ROO classes, you will be familiar with our weekly ‘Treasure Bag’ time. During this quieter time in our program, we introduce babies to a range of common objects through their senses of touch, sight, sound, taste, smell, as well as movement. We also introduce babies to the word and picture that represent the object. A question we are sometimes asked is ‘Why do we include this as an integral part of our program?’
Treasure Bag time is about visualisation. Visualisation is a brain process that allows us to record how things ‘look, feel, taste, smell and move’. This means we can remember an object and recall it very quickly. At birth, babies have very few visualised memories, but the brain is like a sponge and quickly learns through sensory and movement experiences. The more sensory inputs babies and young children have about an object, the more likely the brain is to lay down solid memory patterns for that particular object. That’s why we want the baby to suck, feel, watch, listen and learn about the ‘Treasure Bag’ object each week.
A familiar object is far more likely to be recalled, and that’s why we ask you to bring in an object from your own home. Repeated exposure through seeing, feeling, tasting, hearing and moving the same object on a daily basis also helps the brain learn more quickly and effectively.
Alongside the sensory inputs a child gains about the object, we also flash the relevant word and picture. For some reason, people find this odd. But why? In our world, image and text are everything and everywhere, and while parents are encouraged to read to their children every day, it seems they are still discouraged from exposing them to words. Why are ‘written words’ so bad for a baby to see? Should we not just include this as part of the learning process from birth? At Baby ROO we believe it is the right, and best, thing to do.
Of course, your baby is not learning to read, but they are being exposed to the words and pictures that relate to the object. It’s another form of sensory input that tells your baby’s brain that ‘this word and picture’ are another way of representing the object. Every object in the world has an accompanying word – both written and oral. So, we say the word out loud as we quickly flash the written one. The eye is like the lens of a camera that takes a picture of the word very quickly before transmitting it to the brain, so it only needs this brief flash to ‘see, record and later, recall’.
For infants, the word flashing is simply a visualisation/auditory exercise in the same way as speaking is for auditory stimulation. Showing a baby or small child a word stimulates memory or a ‘neurological impress system’ that makes it easier for children to recognise words when they start to learn to read later.
In this way, babies not only develop an interest in objects and books, but they also develop a spontaneous interest in words. It seems that there are those who say a baby’s brain is not ready for this kind of learning, but at GymbaROO-KindyROO we would argue that it is merely another form of sensory input that is incredibly important for visualisation and later enthusiasm for learning. Not introducing them to written words risks blunting spontaneous interest in the very thing we prioritise the day they step into a classroom. Children who have a visual memory for words already in place when they start school will enjoy reading, and will read more fluently, and more quickly. This means a child feels successful and is more likely to enjoy school. What’s so bad about that?
Dr Jane Williams (PhD, BMgt, RN(Paeds)) is a Director of GymbaROO-KindyROO. She is. Dr Williams is one of Australia’s leading experts on baby and child development.