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The importance of helping your baby learn
New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristoff suggested in his column that education reformers should shift their efforts toward early childhood education. - photo by Herb Scribner
New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristoff suggested in his column that education reformers should shift their efforts toward early childhood education the time when children are too young to head to class but old enough to develop social, language and educational skills.

I support education reform. Yet the brawls have left everyone battered and bloodied, from reformers to teachers unions. Im not advising surrender, Kristoff wrote. But fixing K-12 education will be a long slog, so lets redirect some energy to children aged 0 to 5 (including prenatal interventions, such as discouraging alcohol and drug use among pregnant women).

Kristoff said efforts to reform K-12 education has made public education an exhausted, blood-soaked battlefield. He suggests reformers refocus their efforts to helping children who are 5 years old or younger since the development that happens during those ages could help children make better life choices.

Kristoff said bad education often leaves youngsters to make poor life decisions like joining gangs or selling drugs that send them into poverty. He said high-schoolers and teens are mostly set in their ways in terms of life decisions, so the education fixes that could be made to high school and elementary school curriculums would do little to help youngsters make good choices.

But by starting at an early age, parents can help children gain social and developmental skills that will help them make better life choices down the road.

This suggestion isnt far off from what some companies are doing to help children from a young age. Forms of media, like TV and apps, have already begun to embrace early childhood education.

As I wrote in February, YouTube and Vine launched child-specific versions of their products to educate toddlers and young children. Both apps have created cartoon characters and videos that teach youngsters lessons in a family friendly environment.

But, as Kristoff points out, shifting efforts toward early childhood education may be a slow process, especially since those with influence are unlikely to change their target of reform. Luckily for parents, recent research has found there are ways children can learn and develop without ever leaving the home.

For example, toddlers can learn from an early age with the help of technology, according to a study from New York University. The study found that educational apps help make children more motivated to excel, more engaged with their learning, more likely to grasp literacy skills, and more prepared for when they start attending school.

"Guided use of an educational app may be a source of motivation and engagement for children in their early years," according to Susan Neuman, the studys author, according to Gizbot.

Surprises and tricks can also help children learn during those early years. As I wrote about back in April, a study from Johns Hopkins University found that toddlers learn better when theyre surprised or shocked.

Researchers found that babies were interested in learning more about objects that were used in magic tricks since the trick or surprise made them pay more attention to those objects. Babies would search for answers about why those objects behaved differently in the magic tricks than in other situations, I wrote.

Children can also learn from the time they first come out of the womb. Babies who hear their moms voice and heartbeat from a young age develop strength in their auditory cortex, which helps them develop hearing and language skills, as I wrote back in March.

"We can now say with confidence that the psychosocial environment has a material impact on the way the human brain develops," said Dr. Joan Luby told LiveScience. "It puts a very strong wind behind the sail of the idea that early nurturing of children positively affects their development."
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