Misconceptions About How to Raise a Bright Child: Part Two

S. H. Jacob, Ph.D.


Your Baby’s Brain, Intellect, and You

Your Baby’s Mind: How to Make the Most of the Critical First Two Years

Co-Founder & CEO

SmartBabies AppÔ

There are so many misconceptions when it comes to ideas about the early development of children, myths have persisted over the years that I felt compelled to address others in this, the second part of this article. Let’s take a quick look at some other myths that continue to confuse parents.

Myth: Reading to a baby is the best way to raise a smarter baby.
Reality: Reading plays a significant role in learning, but not in the first two years of life. Instead, parents should focus on playing and engaging their babies in activities appropriate for their cognitive development stage. After age two, parents can focus on building a strong foundation of language skills and a love for reading.

Myth 4: Flashcards and educational videos are a great way to teach your baby ideas, facts, and other bits of knowledge.

Reality: While educational videos and flashcards may entertain babies, they do not significantly impact their cognitive development.  While educational toys can be useful tools for learning, they are not essential for a baby’s development. Instead, stage-appropriate activities that involve household objects or simple toys are the preferred method of nurturing a baby’s cognitive abilities, especially when the activities are done with adults. 

Myth: Repetition leads to understanding.

Reality: While repetition can help to strengthen memory, it does not necessarily lead to understanding. Understanding requires critical thinking and making connections between different pieces of information, which cannot be achieved through memorization alone.

Myth:  The cornerstone of educational programs for the very young, including infants, should be teaching specific facts.

Reality: To nurture critical thinking, we should focus on the process, not the end results; on know-how, not specific facts; on learning how to learn not memorizing.

Scientific facts and principles are acquired best through doing and rediscovery. To illustrate, your baby will learn what snow is by playing with it, not by seeing snow on a digital screen or looking at a flashcard with a snow picture!

Now, when it comes to logical/mathematical truths they are best mastered through reinvention. For example, when your toddler puts toys in a basket and takes them out, he is constructing an idea of “more” and “less” which leads to a basic understanding of adding and subtracting.

Myth:  A child’s vocabulary is the most important measure of their intelligence.

Reality: Our traditional education system has led us to believe that language is the engine that powers intelligence.  Our schools rely heavily on teaching everything through language, even scientific principles, and mathematical (logical) facts. This is why some parents boast that their young child knows more words than his playmates. Language is critical to convey information, but it is not at the heart of cognitive development.  It turns out that play is the key to the development of cognition.  Play, which is a form of action, is the engine of cognitive development, but the play has to match a child’s stage of development to be effective.  The motto of this book then is simple: “Action is the mother of intelligence.” 

Myth:  Children are little sponges, they absorb facts (knowledge).

Reality: On the surface, this myth sounds trivial. But, when we dig deeper a little, we realize that this myth contributes to a fundamental truth about how cognition works. The absorbing metaphor implies that the learner is passive, that he takes what is given to him. What we give is what he takes. To go back to the sponge metaphor, the sponge will absorb water or orange juice depending on what we give it to pick up. 

Cognitive life is not passive.  It is active.  It always filters what it encounters through its maturation, present knowledge base, and level of know-how.  When given a small plush toy, a baby actively seeks to understand what it is.  He might put it in his mouth, shake it, and drop it to construct his own reality of it.  Our reality of the toy and his are not the same.  So, it is more appropriate to speak of the concept of assimilation as opposed to absorption when it comes to our cognition!