5 Ways to Learn Like a Baby

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“Babies love to learn…they are open to all the richness of the world.”


During a recent read of ExchangeEveryDay, we were drawn to a couple quotes from Alison Gopnik’s book The Philosophical Baby. Its framing of infant learning as causal, contextual, and innocent got us thinking about how babies learn- and how much adults could stand to gain from approaching life as they do.

Very young children can use their causal maps of the world – their theories – to imagine different ways that the world might be.

We’ve decided to share those thoughts with you through this list. This will be a fun read for early childhood education enthusiasts, teachers, and counselors, but also anyone seeking to recapture the joy and wonder of earlier years.

Listen. Really listen.
Most adults think they already know how to listen. And yet, scientific studies are revealing that human attention spans are getting shorter and shorter. We notice this most when reading or watching TV, but this can also apply to how we participate in conversation. Listening to not just the gist of someone’s words, but the words they choose to use, and what they mean. Babies start doing this far earlier than we previously thought, with evidence showing they start ruminating on speech patterns and timing as soon as two days after birth. They further their understanding of the spoken language through movement of their tongues and mouths; not being able to do this (through use of a pacifier) hinders their ability to process language. While we don’t recommend audible babbling while your friend, family, or colleague is talking, we do recommend taking stock of any habits (like doodling) that help you listen better, and incorporating them into your routine.

Let more music into your life.
It’s no coincidence that so many baby toys are small versions of instruments; for infants, they’re one and the same. Unlike the adult brain, which views music and language as two separate forms of stimulation, the infant brain understands language and its patterns as a subset of music. This may be why children who learn instruments around the same time they’re learning language seem to have such a strong grasp over each. Try unlocking this power in your brain by listening to instrumental music while you study or work.

Share with friends.

Turns out there’s something to the power of study groups or work teams. Particularly for babies, there are aspects of learning that are heightened when made social:

One study of 10-month-old babies who received Spanish tutoring found that when babies tracked their tutor and the toys she was holding more carefully, the infants had a boost in brain response. In other words, their social interaction boosted their ability to absorb the lesson.

There are moments when solitary work or studying are appropriate, or even needed, but don’t shun the opportunity to talk through an idea with a colleague or a tough concept with a classmate. The ability to bounce ideas off one another could spell success in the long run.

Put on the “sticky mittens.”
The aforementioned “sticky mittens” provide babies with early motor skills training, but also is one of the first opportunities for them to learn another key skill that even adults struggle with: perspective taking.

This bit from Slate says it best:

At three months, babies aren’t very good at reaching and they aren’t very good at understanding what other people are doing by reaching. But after they wear the “sticky mittens” and have the experience of picking up toys, they suddenly understand the point of reaching.

Following their time spent in sticky mittens, babies have a better understanding of individuals performing motions they’ve previously completed while wearing them. This could be highly instructive for adults having a hard time seeing someone else’s point of view. While we can’t put on sticky mittens to mimic the lived experiences of a different gender, race, socioeconomic status, or other point of difference, we have the language, listening tools, and social connections needed to learn more. Ask questions. Be vulnerable. Seek to understand their triumphs and struggles. With mental “sticky mittens,” some of the issues we find ourselves struggling to traverse, could become easier to understand.

Laugh more!
Babies develop a discernible sense of humor at around eighteen months, while we know that they laugh hard and often far earlier than that. Studies have shown that they laugh hundreds of times a day- and they’re laughing far more than their adult counterparts. While laughing has proved to help babies learn new tasks, it can also be effective in helping adults learn new tasks. Having a sense of humor about the world around us and ourselves can relieve mental blocks, release tension and pressure, and make us easier to be around even as we struggle. So if you’re not laughing much during the day, make time for it. It could make your work, studying, and life as a whole, better.

We hope that by now you’re sold on the magical learning powers of babies and toddlers. While we can’t return to the same level of elemental discovery, we can imbue those qualities in our continued pursuit of lifelong learning.

1 Comment…

  1. Hello Amma, this artice is great. Its inspired me to do the same. I like the idea of “laugh more”. Not just a baby but an adult is have to laugh more and more to make live longer.