While there continue to be many areas of disagreement among experts where children and learning are concerned, nearly everyone agrees that there's no place like home for molding a child's intellectual development.
Research has time and time again revealed a high correlation between a child's mental development and the family's income and education level. Children of well-educated parents with comfortable incomes tend to have higher IQ scores and perform better in school than children from lower-class families. Perhaps the reason is simple economics. Well-to-do parents have more money to provide their children stimulating play materials and educational experiences. Perhaps the natural tendency of children to absorb the values and motives of the people who have raised them comes into play, as well. Being creatures of imitation, youngsters naturally follow the examples set by their earliest and most influential role models. In this way, parents who respect learning, enjoy cultural pursuits and reward achievement perpetuate their lifestyle and values through their children. While these traits undeniably correlate with social and economic class, they are obviously not dependent on it as a cause. Society has always produced remarkable individuals from both sides of the tracks.
In the end, most authorities believe that the strongest influences on a child's development are a few simple basics that money does not in any way guarantee. These include a moderate level of stimulation, adult caregivers who are affectionate and responsive, regularity and consistency in daily routine, a rich language environment and frecdom to experiment and explore.
There is Some evidence that hands-on exploration manipulating and controiling the objects in the immediate environmentis an important form of stimulation. In one study conducted over the course of several years, researchers noted that children who had en-joyed access to age-appropriate toys, books and records during their first two years scored higher on first-grade achievement tests than children who had not had such play materials. The significant factor was not the sheer number of toys, but rather, having an assortment of playthings geared to a range of developmental skills, such as language or eye-hand coordination.
Children also need variety in their lives. Even as infants, they should not be confined too closely to the home, for the world beyond the front door offers countless opportunities for learning and for enjoyment. As long as the wider environment is reasonably safe and healthy, its actual nature does not matter, especially to the learning child. A suburban toddler will be as thrilled to splash in the community swimming pool as a city child is to ride on your lap in the subway, or a country child is to pick beans or to putter about in the garden. Youngsters do not all respond the same way to the same experiences, and exposing your little one to a wide range of stimulating sights and adventures will increase his chances of finding something special to him.
Eventually, the big world will offer your growing youngster the opportunities he needs to exercise his independence and develop the confidence essential to continued learning. But first, during these carly years, he nceds most of all someone to teach him how to interpret the lessons that are pouring in from all sides, to help him understand his fascinating environment, to enable him to learn. Providing that guidance is one of your most important functions and responsibilities as a parent.