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Nature vs. Nurture

How much influence do you have on your baby’s intelligence?


You undoubtedly care about the total range of your child's interests and abilities — creativity, social skills, problem-solving ability, and so forth. But like most parents, you are probably especially concerned about the skills that will enable your child to do well in the classroom — from learning to read and then memorizing Shakespeare to learning arithmetic and then mastering geometry. Here is some of what we know:

• Parents are the keys to intellectual development for almost all children in the care and education they provide and arrange. Many research studies underscore the links between parental involvement and young children's intelligence.

• By the time a child turns two, many of the intellectual foundations will have been laid to support a lifetime of learning.

• No single, short-term accelerated early learning program that concentrates on a single aspect of development has been shown to have lasting benefits.

• Instead, a child's intelligence is shaped and influenced by his cumulative experiences over time.

• Nurturing has a profound effect on intelligence. The nature-versus-nurture debate is wrongly framed — biology matters, and so does experience. Intelligence doesn't develop in a vacuum.

Your child's intelligence is being shaped, challenged, and expressed every day by experiences with people, objects, and events — especially when he is an active participant. These experiences are the raw ingredients of intelligence.

Here's more good news. These same ingredients nurture many different facets of a child's intelligence, such as the creative, the musical, the interpersonal, and the logical, as well as the Shakespeare-memorizing and geometry-learning kinds.

There are profound individual differences in children's intellectual profiles. They have different strengths and weaknesses, even in the same family, even when they receive consistently high-quality nurturing and stimulation. There is still much to study and resolve in discerning all the factors that contribute to such variations. Expect to read a lot more in the future about how genes and experiences work together to shape the brain and intelligence.

From Right from Birth: Building Your Child's Foundation for Life by Craig T. Ramey, Ph.D., and Sharon L. Ramey, Ph.D. Available wherever books are sold. Copyright © 1999 by Goddard Press, Inc.

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