How often have parents plotted their baby’s growth basis the height and weight charts? How often have we parents compared our child’s height to our neighbour’s child’s height?
How often have very concerned aunties commented on your child looking too thin and she needs to be ‘healthier’ up?
Now in the same breath, how often have parents measured cognitive development? How often do we compare our child’s cognitive growth with that of a neighbour’s child? When has an aunty ever judged the cognitive power of our children?
A common parent trap is believing that if the ‘physical’ growth is satisfactory then nothing else is needed and the child is on track. Unfortunately, while physical growth is imperative (to be fair it is mostly dependent on genetics, there is little a parent can do about the height bit for sure), cognitive development is really where the focus should be of parents and society at large. The obvious issue is, how does one even gauge cognitive development? But just because I cannot measure my daughter’s cognitive development well at least not in any objective way, doesn’t mean I don’t focus on it. The window for this exponential mental growth is largely limited to the first 6 years of the child (as much as 90% of brain development happens in the first 6 years of life). And science has time and again given very clear evidence that this small window of opportunity must not be missed.
Being a mother of 2 children under the age of 6, I literally doubled under this pressure of providing a stimulating environment for my closely aged but cognitively far apart children. What kind of stimulus can help my 2 children in their cognitive growth?
While my 4-year-old Peanut could be engaged in puzzles, my 2-year Buttercup would be least interested in that. Small wooden coloured boxes that excited 1-year-old Buttercup were already too boring for 3-year-old Peanut. And so it went that at any given point in time both needed attention and an environment that excited them.
By pure accident I found the perfect stimulating environment that excited both my kiddos. The good old kitchen. Baby buttercup was in her carry cot that was placed on the floor while I was doing some odd job at the kitchen counter. She was being pacified with some teether but it wasn’t working too well and I could sense a growing sense of irritation. Soon the wailing would start, rendering me useless in the kitchen. At about this growing tense moment, Peanut saunders in with a thoroughly bored look. This would soon translate into a cranky boy. A wailing baby and a cranky boy was not the recipe I was aiming to cook up.
At tipping point, Peanut in a disheartened manner opened a drawer and took fancy to a red silicon oil brush. I was going to jump and tell him he can’t take a kitchen tool but then I saw his face. He was now a boy with a prize, gleaming away and looking up at her brother was Buttercup, getting equally excited about Peanut swaying this brush in front of her. Well okay then, this was working wonderfully. So out I brought out the pots and pans and other coloured tools. It was another thing that I would have to sort out these things later but at that moment, both my kiddos were productively engaged and I managed to finish up my work. All the while I kept answering Peanut’s questions of what each tool was meant for. Then he would use his childlike imagination and pretend a brush was a man with funny hair or a pan was a rather fat cat with a very small face! Buttercup loved the novelty offered to her and excitedly participated in our conversation with her coos.
The kitchen still continues to hold fascination for my now relatively grown up children. It was the kitchen where buttercup first learned to climb. She wanted to sit on the counter and I was not in favor of this. She thought about it for a while and then comes with 1 low stool and tries. Not successful. Then she gets another higher stool but now that’s too high. Then the magic happens. She aligns the 2 stools and uses both of them as steps and before I know it, she’s on the counter beaming at her grand achievement. I smiled as proudly as a mother could at that moment and then we discussed what was cooking.
Of course my kids mental stimulation is not only restricted to the kitchen but it’s a great learning place, with lots of talk around recipes, nutrition and then the general opening of drawers. Who knows what exciting thing has been put there since the previous evening!
Early learning in any manner is very critical to a child’s cognitive growth. My children and I found it all coming together in the kitchen but there are countless natural stimulating environments – reading books to them, splashing around in a bath, changing clothes, even brushing teeth – for the massively curious little toddlers all of these and more, prove to be very exciting and great learning avenues.
So very consciously hubby and self, focus on that super exciting cognitive growth rather than how tall or thin our children are. They are definitely happier for that.