Review: Brain Rules for Baby: How to Raise a Smart and Happy Child from Zero to Five
Want to make your baby a genius? There’s good news and bad news. The bad news: virtually all of the commercial products that claim to boost your baby’s IQ have no proven effect. The good news: there ARE things you can do that WILL boost your baby’s brain power and that are based on rigorous research. John Medina, who previously wrote Brain Rules, gives us the REAL scoop on what works and what doesn’t in the earliest years of a child’s life. Brain Rules for Baby is an engaging book that uses the latest neuroscience and behavior research to sort out why some kids are smart and happy, and others aren’t.
Learning in the womb?
Medina starts with pre-birth “education” by exploding a few myths and at the same time offering some intriguing indicators that babies DO process information before they emerge from the womb. First, he notes that there is no evidence that playing tapes to Mom’s abdomen will make the child smarter or able to speak foreign languages with more ease. No IQ-boosting claims of ventures like Prenatal University or Pregaphone have ever been validated by controlled scientific testing.
What IS true is that babies’ senses do develop while in the womb, and it’s possible to affect their later behavior. For example, research shows that babies react in utero to the food their mothers eat, and that after birth they exhibit a preference for those foods. They also hear sounds; Medina recounts the story of a conductor who, in rehearsing a new piece, found that he could lead the orchestra with barely a reference to the score. When he mentioned this oddity to his mother, a cellist, she laughed and said she had been rehearsing the same piece while pregnant with him.
Another key point made by Medina is the effect of real, human interaction with young children. Taped voices and videos have little or no impact, but a parent or someone else actually talking has a profound impact on learning. The huge industry that has sprung up to help parents create smarter kids is largely founded on what Medina considers a false premise: that a child watching a video or listening to a tape will improve their brain function.
I found Brain Rules for Baby to be both exciting and hopeful. For every bogus claim he demolishes, Medina offers research-based suggestions for truly effective strategies. The appeal of this book is due in part to Medina’s status as a dispassionate observer. Without a magic brain enhancer product to pitch, he can be refreshingly honest. Combine his emphasis on facts with an easy-to-read and engaging writing style, and you get a must-read book for any parent or parent-to-be.