Homeschooling Journey Begins: Cognitive Development Activities, Part I

January 29th, 2011 by

I’ve been researching a lot about baby development since before I became pregnant with Kamea. Even though Kamea is only 7 months old, we have been doing things with her since birth to promote development. I consider this as starting her homeschool even at this young age. So, I plan to blog about these homeschooling activities and share what we are doing and I welcome comments and sharing about what other parents are doing out there to promote development and what homeschooling activities you do.

Did you know that a baby is born with an IQ that is not fixed? There is a range that’s determined by genes, but within that range, IQ can vary as much as 20-30 points depending on pre- and postnatal environmental exposure such as nutrition, health, and experiences. Thus, nature and nurture are braided together.

It’s the environmental experiences I’m focusing on today. It’s fascinating to know that the majority of the brain’s wiring actually occurs during the first few years of life. Most of the brain cells are created before birth, but the all-important connections between them are primarily formed after birth. Before kindergarten, a baby’s brain is developing, growing, and soaking up information like a sponge. Much of the wiring for specific brain structures occurs during critical developmental windows, meaning if certain wiring doesn’t occur by a certain time, it never will. For this reason, from almost the day Kamea was born, Greg and I wasted no time in getting started.

There have been a number of things we’ve done so far…

Stimulating Shapes and Contrasting Colors – I think most parents know about this one. During those first months babies are attracted to black and white, sometimes red and bright yellow. The clear and sharp contrasts capture and hold a baby’s attention. To support this, I bought a cute black and white board book (you can find a number of them on Amazon, like this one). Greg and I also drew pictures with black marker on white paper. We started with simple shapes and very high contrast images (like the ninja) and gradually added more complexity. It was fascinating to watch Kamea’s reactions and observe what kinds of stimuli she was responding to (simple shapes vs. complex patterns vs. vs animals, faces, colors, etc.), and see how this changed over time. We taped the drawings to the wall all over our home, in areas where she would see them frequently or for extended periods of time. She loved staring at them. (Ummm… can you guess which one of these four I drew? lol)

Stimulating shapes and colors isn’t the only way to capture and hold a baby’s attention though. Changing your voice is important, too. We would talk to Kamea in a soft voice, loud voice, and funny voices. We make animal noises, which delight her… as though she knows we’re being goofy.

Size matters as well. Showing your baby toys and objects of different sizes is great for attracting your baby’s attention and helping him/her wire more neural connections.

Finally, novelty is important. Nature plays a strong role here in that we’re wired to pay special attention to new things, people, sounds, etc., not just merely from curiosity, but as a survival mechanism that tunes us for noticing things that are new or different in our environment. This doesn’t mean you must constantly buy new toys though. A couple of ways to maintain novelty is to rotate toys, change the locations of where they are in the house, let baby play with things you wouldn’t consider toys: measuring cups, kitchen gadgets, office supplies, etc. And then talk with your baby, describe the items, and play with your baby while he or she is checking them out. Of course, you’ll want to watch your baby at all times when playing with items like these. One safety test is to see if the object is small enough to fit through a toilet paper tube. If it does, it could be a potential choking hazard and is not a good toy.

Classical Music – This is another popular one, a cliche even, ever since Yuppies popularized it in the 80s. Playing classical music to facilitate baby’s learning is known as the “Mozart Effect”… although Bach, Beethoven, or other classical composers are purported to be appropriate as well. We often play classical music when we’re just doing stuff around the house. It’s reputed to help with the development of spatial-temporal reasoning. Furthermore, teaching Kamea to play an instrument is believed to have life-long enhancement of spatial reasoning skills, which is important later on for math, art, and efficiently packing the trunk of your car.

My brother, now an accomplished musician, began playing piano by ear at age three. Although Kamea is too young to even hold an instrument, let alone learn to play one, she already delights in banging on her daddy’s guitar strings and she seems to understand that her actions are indeed what’s causing the strange, new sounds. The most important thing is that baby is having fun, as this begins to establish all learning as something that’s enjoyable. Best of all, her spastic little guitar riffs sometimes occupy her attention for a good 15 minutes, a blissful eternity in mommy-entertaining-baby time. Future genius brain wiring or not, her cute little pats on the fretboard and resulting giggles are music to my ears.

In Part Two of this post, I’ll talk about reading, talking, tummy time, and a few more important things we’ve been paying attention to with Kamea’s development.


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Introducing Solids to Kamea… Not Yet But Getting Ready

January 10th, 2011 by

Sorry for my lack of posts the past couple of weeks. Between Kamea, taking care of household duties, and maintaining my Kristen’s Raw blog… time sure does fly, eh? Kamea turned 6 months of age at the end of December 2010 – yowza! It’s so exciting to watch her grow and see her little personality coming out. It’s been a non-stop blast with her.

Traditionally, this is the time that many parents are excited to try giving their baby solids to eat. But, we haven’t followed that tradition. She’s about 6.5 months now and I don’t feel the need to introduce solids yet. I’ve read a number of sources that state a mom can breastfeed her baby exclusively for up to a year. While that is not my goal or intention, I do feel a strong pull in the direction to go beyond the conventional 6-month mark of exclusive breastfeeding.

There are a few markers that many parents look for before introducing solids:

1) Teeth – Kamea doesn’t have any teeth yet. However, some babies don’t start teething until close to a year old. This doesn’t mean you don’t introduce solids before that, but some people use it as one indicator (of a few) as to the readiness of baby to have solids.

2) Sitting up unassisted and having solid head control – Kamea started sitting unassisted just before she turned 6 months. She’s had solid head control for awhile.

3) Interest in foods – Many babies show their eagerness towards solids by reaching for mama’s food. Kamea hasn’t really done this. She definitely eyes us when we’re eating, but she doesn’t grab for it specifically. She pretty much grabs for everything within reach, so her reach for my smoothie cup doesn’t tell me she’s trying to reach for it to drink it.

4) Hunger – If a baby seems hungry beyond the normal feedings of breastmilk then it could be a sign of readiness for solids.

Most importantly though, I’m simply following my own mama intuition. I didn’t feel solids were necessary at the exact 6-month point, and I still don’t at her current age of 6 1/2 months. As many of you know, Kamea sees two different pediatricians (an allopathic doctor and a naturopathic doctor – read more about that here). Both doctors encourage feeding at 6 months. The allopath said that it helps with development. I wasn’t entirely sure if that was something to be concerned about so I’ve been researching it and here is something to consider from KellyMom.com

I’ve not been able to find any research data to support the idea that there is a limited window of opportunity for introducing solids in normally developing, healthy children. There does appear to be some limited evidence that babies who have been tube-fed long-term or have serious developmental delays may have problems learning to eat if they don’t get a chance to practice eating solids between 6 & 10 months. A small study involving case studies of several mentally retarded children was done back in 1964 (Illingworth RS, Lister J. The critical or sensitive period, with special reference to certain feeding problems in infants and children. J Pediatr 1964;65(6) part 1:839-48.). This study suggested that there may be a “critical and/or sensitive” period for introducing chewable textures to these children, and if solids are not introduced during this time, an important developmental milestone may be missed (possibly leading to rejection of solids later on). This study is theonly one I’ve found referenced with regard to the “limited window of opportunity” claims regarding the normal development of children.

I asked a speech & language pathologist I know about her experiences with this. She has worked with many young children who have feeding problems, including developmental delays and problems with chewing and oral texture aversion. She said that she could not think of any reason that delaying solids would cause feeding problems, and said that the the problems in the children she had worked with had generally started at birth or relatively soon after. None of these children had a feeding problem caused by a delayed start to solid foods.

Kamea’s naturopath is more flexible yet a little concerned with Kamea getting enough iron, but I’m not worried about that. Breastmilk’s iron is highly absorbable and anemia is uncommon in breastfed babies according to KellyMom.com.

That being said, I am thinking about it… for when the time is right. I have prepared by doing research into the foods we’ll be feeding her (I can’t wait to write a baby food book with raw and vegan recipes!). I also bought her an organic bib, a couple of baby wooden bowls and spoons (so cute!), and we dove into researching high chairs. Finding a chair for Kamea has been a back and forth process. I wanted a wooden chair to be eco friendly, but I kept hearing so many mixed reviews about the trendy ones on the market like the Tripp Trapp and Svan. Plus, this video freaked me out in spite of them now including “extenders” with the chairs – you’d think the chair should’ve been designed properly in the first place). The other wood chairs on the market just don’t have enough good reviews for me to make the purchase. I don’t really want to have one made because I’m concerned about safety issues. I started searching for a BPA-free plastic option even though I hate the idea of crappy plastic high chairs. As more days came and went, I just couldn’t decide what to do. My dilemma was I wanted wood to be a green mommy, but I didn’t like the options. The result? A friend of ours is giving us her plastic chair. It’s the ultimate in being green as far as reusing and not making a purchase whether wood or plastic. And, while I don’t like the idea of it being plastic, it seems the route to go, for now at least. If the tray isn’t BPA-free, then perhaps I can find a liner for it or something.

I think Kamea’s first food will be organic banana mashed with breastmilk. We’re taking it day by day although I suspect we’ll venture into solids territory somewhere between 7-9 months. Furthermore, our naturopath said to not introduce cereals or grains until at least 9 months of age because a baby lacks the proper enzymes to digest them properly before that. Whoa! Why don’t more people know that?! So often people start with cereals as the first food.

UPDATE (1/11/11): I just read in Shazzie’s book, Evie’s Kitchen (one of my faves for raising healthy kids!), “According to information in The Breastfeeding Answer Book by Nancy Mahrbacher and Julie Stock, delaying the introduction of food from six months to seven months increases nutrient absorption by 60% for life.”

What are your first baby solid stories and/or advice?


Introducing Solids to Babies… Not Yet For Kamea But Getting Ready

January 10th, 2011 by

Sorry for my lack of posts the past couple of weeks. Between Kamea, taking care of household duties, and maintaining my Kristen’s Raw blog… time sure does fly, eh? Kamea turned 6 months of age at the end of December 2010 – yowza! It’s so exciting to watch her grow and see her little personality coming out. It’s been a non-stop blast with her.

Traditionally, this is the time that many parents are excited to try giving their baby solids to eat. But, we haven’t followed that tradition. She’s about 6.5 months now and I don’t feel the need to introduce solids yet. I’ve read a number of sources that state a mom can breastfeed her baby exclusively for up to a year. While that is not my goal or intention, I do feel a strong pull in the direction to go beyond the conventional 6-month mark of exclusive breastfeeding.

There are a few markers that many parents look for before introducing solids:

1) Teeth – Kamea doesn’t have any teeth yet. However, some babies don’t start teething until close to a year old. This doesn’t mean you don’t introduce solids before that, but some people use it as one indicator (of a few) as to the readiness of baby to have solids.

2) Sitting up unassisted and having solid head control – Kamea started sitting unassisted just before she turned 6 months. She’s had solid head control for awhile.

3) Interest in foods – Many babies show their eagerness towards solids by reaching for mama’s food. Kamea hasn’t really done this. She definitely eyes us when we’re eating, but she doesn’t grab for it specifically. She pretty much grabs for everything within reach, so her reach for my smoothie cup doesn’t tell me she’s trying to reach for it to drink it.

4) Hunger – If a baby seems hungry beyond the normal feedings of breastmilk then it could be a sign of readiness for solids.

Most importantly though, I’m simply following my own mama intuition. I didn’t feel solids were necessary at the exact 6-month point, and I still don’t at her current age of 6 1/2 months. As many of you know, Kamea sees two different pediatricians (an allopathic doctor and a naturopathic doctor – read more about that here). Both doctors encourage feeding at 6 months. The allopath said that it helps with development. I wasn’t entirely sure if that was something to be concerned about so I’ve been researching it and here is something to consider from KellyMom.com

I’ve not been able to find any research data to support the idea that there is a limited window of opportunity for introducing solids in normally developing, healthy children. There does appear to be some limited evidence that babies who have been tube-fed long-term or have serious developmental delays may have problems learning to eat if they don’t get a chance to practice eating solids between 6 & 10 months. A small study involving case studies of several mentally retarded children was done back in 1964 (Illingworth RS, Lister J. The critical or sensitive period, with special reference to certain feeding problems in infants and children. J Pediatr 1964;65(6) part 1:839-48.). This study suggested that there may be a “critical and/or sensitive” period for introducing chewable textures to these children, and if solids are not introduced during this time, an important developmental milestone may be missed (possibly leading to rejection of solids later on). This study is theonly one I’ve found referenced with regard to the “limited window of opportunity” claims regarding the normal development of children.

I asked a speech & language pathologist I know about her experiences with this. She has worked with many young children who have feeding problems, including developmental delays and problems with chewing and oral texture aversion. She said that she could not think of any reason that delaying solids would cause feeding problems, and said that the the problems in the children she had worked with had generally started at birth or relatively soon after. None of these children had a feeding problem caused by a delayed start to solid foods.

Kamea’s naturopath is more flexible yet a little concerned with Kamea getting enough iron, but I’m not worried about that. Breastmilk’s iron is highly absorbable and anemia is uncommon in breastfed babies according to KellyMom.com.

That being said, I am thinking about it… for when the time is right. I have prepared by doing research into the foods we’ll be feeding her (I can’t wait to write a baby food book with raw and vegan recipes!). I also bought her an organic bib, a couple of baby wooden bowls and spoons (so cute!), and we dove into researching high chairs. Finding a chair for Kamea has been a back and forth process. I wanted a wooden chair to be eco friendly, but I kept hearing so many mixed reviews about the trendy ones on the market like the Tripp Trapp and Svan. Plus, this video freaked me out in spite of them now including “extenders” with the chairs – you’d think the chair should’ve been designed properly in the first place). The other wood chairs on the market just don’t have enough good reviews for me to make the purchase. I don’t really want to have one made because I’m concerned about safety issues. I started searching for a BPA-free plastic option even though I hate the idea of crappy plastic high chairs. As more days came and went, I just couldn’t decide what to do. My dilemma was I wanted wood to be a green mommy, but I didn’t like the options. The result? A friend of ours is giving us her plastic chair. It’s the ultimate in being green as far as reusing and not making a purchase whether wood or plastic. And, while I don’t like the idea of it being plastic, it seems the route to go, for now at least. If the tray isn’t BPA-free, then perhaps I can find a liner for it or something.

I think Kamea’s first food will be organic banana mashed with breastmilk. We’re taking it day by day although I suspect we’ll venture into solids territory somewhere between 7-9 months. Furthermore, our naturopath said to not introduce cereals or grains until at least 9 months of age because a baby lacks the proper enzymes to digest them properly before that. Whoa! Why don’t more people know that?! So often people start with cereals as the first food.

UPDATE (1/11/11): I just read in Shazzie’s book, Evie’s Kitchen (one of my faves for raising healthy kids!), “According to information in The Breastfeeding Answer Book by Nancy Mahrbacher and Julie Stock, delaying the introduction of food from six months to seven months increases nutrient absorption by 60% for life.”

What are your first baby solid stories and/or advice?