Infant Education

One day unborn, the next breathing on their own

As a mother of 12 children, I admit to a preference for infants over any other age. To me, infants are so miraculous; one day unborn, the next breathing on their own and having the Moro reflex—where you clap and they arch their backs with arms and legs akimbo. This simple neurological reflex is, to me, a marvel. Watching a pediatrician perform basic neurological tests on my newborns, never fails to inspire awe in this mother many times over.

Other parents might think I'm wasting my time

Since I do have this predilection for entertaining newborns, I spend a great deal of time with my babies, talking to them, when other parents might think I'm wasting my time. I believe that the more I talk to my babies, the easier it will be for them to learn to express themselves with words. In fact, my babies speak at a very young age, and I am sure that this is due to the very verbal attention I give them.

An indelible impression

Years ago, in Time Magazine, I read an article that described a just discovered phenomenon in which a newborn matches his facial expressions to that of his father. The article was accompanied by photos. As the father made the open wide shape of the sound, 'ooo,' the baby opened his mouth as well. These photos made an indelible impression on me.

I have found that my own newborns, given half a chance, display this same phenomenon with me, and I created a game that elicits such a response from my babies. I prop the baby against my legs as I lay in bed with my knees up. This way, the baby's face is at eye level to my own. He has a clear view of my face as I mouth vowel sounds. I enunciate with clarity and exaggerate the movements of my mouth and lips as I say, "Aaaaaaaaaaaah, Eeeeeeeeeeh, Oooooooooh…..Oooooooooo."

I build up the excitement as I say the vowels, letting my voice slide up at the end of each syllable. The last sound, 'ooo,' is said in a high, squeaky voice and rides down the scale, as if, in fact, a child was calling as he goes down a slide. I find that my babies will concentrate hard on my face and try to mimic the shape of my mouth as I say the sounds. They often smile, even though quite young, at the concluding syllable.

Of course, babies have limited attention spans. Whenever I play a game with a newborn, I watch for signs that his attention has waned. He will break eye contact and look away from me. I do the same, and give him a minute or two to recharge, and then start all over again.

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