HOW BABIES LEARN AND WHY ROBOTS CAN’T COMPETE!

Many people think that the young child’s mind only starts to develop once they start speaking, and some people only take young children’s learning seriously once they start school!

In fact learning starts in the womb. The first evidence of this is when the foetus puts his little hand to his mouth, enjoys sucking on it and repeats the experience. By the time baby is born, she can already recognise her mother’s voice. The first 3 years of life is the period of greatest brain growth and development in a person’s life. It is estimated that 80% or more of brain development takes place in these early years and babies are natural-born explorers ready made for scientific inquiry. They learn from everything they experience in their environment.

An artificial intelligence and robotics expert at MIT in USA, Deb Roy, tried to develop a robot that could learn the same way kids learn by trying to understand the workings of the infant mind. He and his wife, Rupal Patel, an eminent speech and language specialist, set up cameras and recording devices that recorded 85% of their little son’s first 3 years. Much of this explored the miracle of how babies learn to talk. Deb Roy was blown away by the incredible sophistication of what a language learner, in the form of a small child, actually looks like, understands and does.

By contrast, robots can only reach out in ways they have been programmed to and can only learn from stimuli they have been instructed to pay attention to. This limits them to a small range of experiences that would shape their behaviours. Babies on the other hand are social learners. Most importantly, they learn through their experiences and their environment, but in relationships with the caring, responsive adults in their worlds. Their learning is interactive and highly complex.

So what does this mean for parents? The time you spend with your little ones is precious indeed – it’s an investment into his or her future. Every experience in his little world is a learning opportunity, even the mundane daily routines of bathing, dressing and eating. Use the precious time you spend with your little one every day a fun time of shared pleasure.

And I hope you will look at babies with new respect! They are the most extraordinarily capable little beings, quite apart from being so cute and cuddly!

[With acknowledgement to an article in The Guardian – 5th April 2018]

LOVE, PLAY TALK

Learn more about what you can do to change your child’s future by listening weekly to LOVE, PLAY TALK, the radio programme on Nkomazi FM aired EVERY Thursday from 11 to 11.30am and brought to you by Ilifa Labantwana and RCL FOODS. Each week Nkomazi FM hosts a guest speaker to deal with a different topic to support you, the parent of a young child, give your child the best start in life. The LOVE, PLAY, TALK radio programme is part of the RCL FOODS  sponsored LEAVE NO YOUNG CHILD BEHIND early childhood development initiative in Nkomazi Wards 16 and 19 that aims to ensure every young child in these wards has access to improved quality of essential services so that they get the very best start in life. And you, the parent, have a critically important role to play!

Get more information from the Nkomazi FM website www.nkomazifm.co.za or the Ilifa Labantwana website www.ilifalabantwana.co.za . Do listen every week and give your little one the best start in life!

PAM PICKEN

EARLY CHILDHOOD DEVELOPMENT SPECIALIST

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