This morning I packed up my baby and sent him off to his first day of school.
Well, actually he packed himself up. And made his own breakfast. And dressed himself. And then walked out the door after giving me a hug to walk to the end of our long, country driveway to wait for the bus alone. I KNOW, CAN YOU BELIEVE IT?? All by himself, without my help. Brings a tear to a mother’s eye.
My son, Zack, is 13. And whoa, did he ever take the summer off. He’s a natural-born reader, so that was still in play. But no thinking about math and beginning algebra. No Spanish study. No PE class (but plenty of time in the swimming pool). And weeks of summer camp, which he loves for their parent-less freedom.
I’m sure many of you packed off one of your babies to school in the past week or two. But your littlest babies—the ones who are even pre-preschool—never stopped going to school. For them, every day is a critical day of self-discovery and learning, as their nascent brains furiously create neural connections and lay the groundwork for a life of learning and living. I’m talking, really furiously—as in 700 new neural connections a second.
This is why our most wee ones need our undivided attention all throughout the day—and regardless of where we are in the school calendar. ; ) Because what fuels those neural connections is what researchers call “serve and return”, i.e. engaged exchanges between parent and child, even if it’s just sharing a gaze, or a giggle, or the pause we make when we ask our little lumps a question we know they can’t answer.
And believe it or not, this is the most important and critical “learning” your baby does in the earliest months of his or her life. And it lays a strong foundation for the big learning to come: language acquisition, reading skills, emotional self-modulation, and more.
Wow. That’s pretty powerful stuff, eh? So every day is a pre-preschool day for your child, from birth until school actually begins. And you don’t even need to get school supplies for your baby, because the best tool for this kind of learning… is you.
Stacy Morrison is Executive Producer at WeeSchool, as well as a mother, writer, author (Falling Apart in One Piece) and former magazine editor in chief (Redbook, Modern Bride and more).