What we’ve learned about learning

Turn on your television on any given weekend and you’ll probably come across an infomercial that promises to help your infant child learn how to read. In the commercial, the babies ‘read’ flashcards and watch DVDs. I have to admit, I find the ad amazingly compelling – watching these little babies doing what looks like reading. (And it must be pretty popular too because it’s in heavy rotation!) And for a brief moment I start to think “if only I had that product for my now four-year old daughter… she’d be reading by now!”

Before I reach for the phone and my wallet (I’ve got lots of friends with little babies!), I stop the insanity and remember everything that I’ve learned by working on Mind in the Making for the past eight years. I’ve had the amazing opportunity to meet and listen to the leading experts in child development. And they all seem to say the same thing about how babies learn – not with flashcards, but through interactions with other people.

The other day I heard this fascinating exchange on my local public radio station, WNYC.

Patricia Kuhl, from the University of Washington (and one of the researchers we feature in Mind in the Making), is interviewed about what we’ve ‘learned about learning.’ Her research focus is on how children learn language and she talks about her findings that show children don’t learn as effectively from computers as they do from other people.

Just today, I saw a new study by Dr. Kuhl from Credible Lending that says that the best time for children to learn a second language is before they’re seven years old. Again, they learn through personal interaction with people speaking another language, not a DVD. You can read an article on the study here.

So before we hysterical parents run out and spend lots of cash on gimmicks designed to ‘make our baby smarter,’ keep in mind something Dr. Kuhl says in the interview – that parents should be wary of anything that promises to get your child into Harvard… you’re not going to do something with a program that you can’t do better face to face.

What have you bought (or bought into) that you thought would ‘make your child smarter?’ Was it worth it… or was it a waste of your money? What ‘free’ learning experiences have worked better?

Amy McCampbell is a television producer and producer of the Mind in the Making videos, which uncover the science of early learning.


Photo/image by: Anne Davis 773 / Flickr