Program uses games, apps to make early connections in babies' brains

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by SHELLY SLATER

Bio | Email | Follow: @wfaashelly

WFAA

Posted on November 8, 2012 at 11:29 PM

Updated Friday, Nov 9 at 12:10 AM

DALLAS -- Tracking objects, a focus on phonics, and sequencing shapes: They are all deceptively simple tasks, with 30 years of research behind them.

The flash cards move fast, focusing on visual, auditory, and motor senses simultaneously -- a combination shown to enhance learning.

For mom Erin Dace and daughter, Mazzy, it's 30 minutes of working out the brain every week, through PlayWisely.

“It’s not about making the baby smarter, it’s about certain parts of their brain interacting with each other at this stage,” said Erin Dace, who started Mazzy in the program at six weeks.

“Babies can actually start learning while they are in the womb,” said Michael Motes with the Center for Brain Health.

Motes actually set out to research this new method with a critical eye. But now he, along with other researchers, are finding there may be something to it. From autistic children, to those in underprivileged backgrounds, the brain is responding.

“Their core abilities seem to be changing,” he said. “It’s the new science of learning. It's not teaching the traditional ABC’s, 123s, they recognize in the early years, you need to build the neural architecture that will allow those skills to be learned.”

Patty Hannan created the program based off of existing developmental science, and then put her own spin on it.

First, she said kids need to focus on playing, as it's the best way to grow the brain. Combining physical activity in each class is believed to help kids retain information.

Second, the program is systematic.

“So we have shapes and colors, which you could train those separately. They are processed in different parts of the brain," Motes explained with flash cards laid out in front of him. "If we remove one, what is missing from the array? Then they have to identify, it's the color red and the shape is a square. You have to look at the row and column - to get more brain gymnastics going."

Hannan said whether you're part of her program or not, research shows the most important part of early development is one-on-one time, talking with your baby, and making them feel loved. In fact, most parents naturally teach these concepts at home, just not in this fast, systematic, puzzle-like approach.

“It's all those neural pathways for you to be adaptable and have an agile brain," Hannan said. "Because kids today, even though they live in this community, will be fighting for jobs globally. And the technologies they are going to need to be adaptable and successful haven't even been invented yet. How do we prepare our kids for that kind of a world?”

For mom, Erin, that's reason enough for this weekly investment.

“When you see the progressions in your class and then in your baby, you realize that it's not just normal development," she said. "[My daughter is] getting a lot of benefit from the interactions in the class."

E-mail sslater@wfaa.com

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