Plain Truth Magazine
April 1978
Volume: Vol XLIII, No.4
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Robert D Oberlander  

Want to improve your child's performance in school? Some noted researchers offer a few suggestions for developing your child's human potential.

   At any given moment somewhere on this globe a proud parent is effusively exclaiming, "That's my kid!" Whether it's the joy of a baby's first step, a daughter's first ballet performance, or a new promotion for a 35-year-old "baby," it's wonderful when children do something to cause parents such pleasure.
   Parents want their children to be successful, happy, and well adjusted. Some parents even go to great lengths to turn their children into prodigies, geniuses, or wunderkinder. But many mothers and fathers may not realize that they can do a lot more toward developing such traits. Recent studies have revealed the sobering fact that parents play an incredibly important role in the total development of their children. That role appears to be doubly important during a vital ten-month period early in a toddler's life.

Importance of Parental Contact

   Professor Robert Zajonc and his colleague Dr. Gregory Markus, two University of Michigan researchers, have concluded that adult contact is a significant factor in the development of the intellectual ability of children. Their research found that the child's rate of mental development was related to the amount of adult knowledge available to the child. In order to increase both the parental contact and the knowledge available to the child, both necessary for greater intellectual growth, children should be spaced at least three years apart. Their research shows more rapid growth in intellectual skills when the parental knowledge is not shared by two or more children.
   Recently there has been a growing concern over a drop in scores of high school graduates taking the Scholastic Aptitude Test. Zajonc and Markus cite the baby boom of the 1940s and 1950s as a possible cause in these declining scores. Then, parents had more children and spaced them relatively close together. The researchers feel the decline in performance will reverse as we move into the 1980s and see the reflection of fewer children per family with more time separating them.
   Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget for many years has researched the area of intellectual development. His work has reflected the "active and creative nature of children's thinking" from birth forward. Piaget's theories have lent themselves to further investigation in this important area.
   In 1965 psychologist Burton L. White started a research operation called the Harvard Preschool Project. At that time, scientists were just beginning to realize that intellectual development started before school age. Dr. Benjamin S. Bloom of the University of Chicago, in his book Stability and Change in Human Characteristics, indicated that by age four as much as 50 percent of a child's intelligence is set. White states: "For us to think education begins when a child goes to first grade is grossly in error. Children start to learn long before they are 6 years old. They start to learn at birth. It's pretty much all over by the time they are three." He feels that by this time developing and learning capacities are relatively well established for life.
   The Harvard Preschool Project set out to determine how to raise intellectually competent children. White established two groups of normal 3-to-6-year-olds for contrast. The first group he called A group. These children rated exceptionally high on all aspects of competence both in and outside the school classroom. The second group he called C group. These children had some difficulties and were never quite able to cope. White, coauthoring with Jean C. Watts, described this research in the book Major Influences on the Development of Young Children. Studying these children, they found a set of intellectual and social skills which could be isolated into 17 specific abilities to establish how the two groups differed. Group A had these skills while group C did not. Some of these skills include how to get help and attention from adults. Group A children planned and carried out complicated projects and were able to anticipate the consequences, and they understood more complicated sentences. The C group did not possess these skills. Interestingly, it was found that children at age 3, when tested, had the same skills as those at age 6; thus these particular abilities were developed prior to the age of three.

The Critical Factor

   Finding these skills were developed before age three required the researchers to abandon the kindergartens and nursery schools and get right into the homes of children ranging from the ages of one to three. Not only were the children observed, but mothers as well, to determine what activities they were providing to stimulate intellectual growth in their children.
   The researchers found that by 1 1/2 to 2 the skills were already set, but at 10 months it was not possible to define differences. Apparently a very important transition occurs between 10 months and 18 months. This difference is not attributed to race, income, education or residence. The critical factor seems to be the interaction between the mother and the child. As White has stated: "Providing a rich social life for a 12-to-15-month-old child is the best thing you can do to guarantee a good mind."
   What is it that mothers do to produce
Apparently a very important transition occurs between 10 months and 18 months. This difference in skills is not attributed to race, income, education or residence. The critical factor seems to be the interaction between the mother and the child.
"A" children? While the interaction is important they don't spend a great deal of time interacting. Seldom do these mothers spend more than 10 percent of the child's waking hours in undivided attention of their children. This amounts to less than 1.2 hours a day.
   "White found that the best parents excelled at three key functions: I) they were superb designers and organizers of their child's environment; 2) they were firm disciplinarians while simultaneously showing great affection for their children; 3) they served as personal consultants to their children in brief episodes of perhaps 30 seconds or less. These parents allowed the child to initiate most interactions between them, but were highly responsive to calls for comfort. information or a shared enthusiasm" ("Exploring' the Origins of Human Competence," APA Monitor, April 1976).
   The "A" mothers do not confine their children to playpens and high chairs for long periods. They provide a variety of toys and other household objects which are interesting and stimulating to the child. The "C" mothers, on the other hand, are restrictive, having many areas out of bounds to the child. They are "protective" of the child, thus limiting, during a period of critical development, growth and curiosity.

Reinforcing Skills

   The mother's role as a consultant comes to bear when the child needs help or meets an impasse. According to White, the "A" mother will give the child a few seconds of time resulting in his receiving some language, beefing up his curiosity, giving related ideas that lead him to start thinking, reinforcing important skills, and teaching him to use adults as a resource. Many of these short sessions, from changing diapers to helping or playing, add up to the 1.2 hours a day responsible for the "A" type development. The "C" mothers rarely stimulate the child to better understand why things are the way they are and how they work.
   These findings do not relegate the "C" child to failure, but if neither the environment nor the mother as activity coordinator changes, then something will be lost in the child's intellectual development.
   If you, as a concerned parent, provide an enriched environment during those critical periods of development, you will have done what you can to ensure a more fully developed intellect for your child, so that he or she can more completely utilize his or her human potential.

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Plain Truth MagazineApril 1978Vol XLIII, No.4