Most of us are accustomed to the idea that we begin to learn once we are born, when we interact with the world around us. Going to a nursery or some other kind of early education institution is the next major step, which ‘teaches’ toddlers in a specific way to kick-start their learning process. Learning continues when kids start to learn how to address their parents and interact with others. But is that really the progression? Does learning really start after we’re born, or does it start much earlier than that?
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In the Womb
You may be surprised to know, quite understandably, that a child actually starts to learn long before he/she enters the world. A child begins to learn while still in the womb of their mother. Scientists have been trying to figure out what it is that children learn while still in the dark confines of their mother’s womb, and during this intensive study, they have found some fascinating results.
A Novel Way of Testing Behavior
Since infants are not good at… well, pretty much anything, it is a challenge in itself to conduct studies that involve newborns. However, scientists did figure out a way to test a baby’s behavior under certain conditions.
What’s the one thing that newborns are really good at? Sucking. During the study, children were provided with two rubber nipples. When the child sucked at one nipple, they play a strange woman’s voice on the headphones put on the child’s ears, but if the child sucks on the other nipple, then they play the voice of that child’s mother.
It was found that children repeatedly showed a preference towards the second rubber nipple. Not only this, but children also tended to slow down their sucking when something piqued their attention and interest, whereas they sped up their sucking when they were bored. In one interesting case, children were able to recognize the theme song of the daily soap that their mother watched regularly while pregnant.
Hear Me Out!
Initially, children begin to learn by recognizing their mother’s voice. That’s one of the first things that registers in their impressionable minds. When a fetus is only four months old, despite having an underdeveloped brain at that point, they can still begin to learn. But why is this only true of the mother’s voice? Why not the voice of the child’s father?
This is because external sounds travel to the fetus through the abdominal tissue of the mother and must then pass through the amniotic fluid that surrounds the fetus. This is why sounds from the external world reach a fetus in a highly muffled staff. On the other hand, when the mother speaks, the sound reverberates through her entire body, which makes it easier for the baby to hear it more distinctly and become more comfortable with that particular voice.
Taste and Smell
By the time a fetus has spent seven months in the womb, it acquires a sense of taste and smell. Whatever the mother consumes also reaches the fetus in some mild form. Since the fetus is surrounded by amniotic fluid, many of the flavors find their way into the fluid, which is commonly swallowed by the fetus. This is why a toddler, in its earliest days, typically shows some preference towards what their mother consumed during pregnancy.
That was just the light side of the story. A fetus also has to endure any undesirable living conditions that the mother experiences. For example, the fetus is impacted by the air that the mother inhales, the chemicals to which she is exposed, and even the mood the mother is in during most of her pregnancy.
For these reasons and many others, it is important to ensure that the environment around a mother is upbeat and free from any stress, so that the little one coming into the world is a healthy and happy child!