The Richmond Register


December 12, 2012

The bornlearning Academy

Workshop 2: Talking with your child, brain development

BEREA — Editor’s note: The Register published an article in November about the addition of the Toyota “bornlearning Academy” at Berea Community School. The school received a $11,500 grant to fund the academy, which includes monthly workshops for parents and children 0 to 5. The workshops teach parents and caregivers how to turn everyday activities into learning activities. Three Register reporters have children age 2 and under and decided to sign up for the Academy. This is the second in a series about what was learned at the bornlearning workshops.

Within the first year of life, a child experiences around 70 percent of brain growth, and 90 percent by age three, said Barb Mills, the bornlearning Academy workshop facilitator.

That makes sense to me. My 22-month-old toddler has learned the basic skills he will use for the rest of his life, such as eating, walking and talking. Maybe during that last 10 percent of brain development, Ryker will learn to stop mashing beans into his hair or rubbing his eyes when he has spaghetti sauce on his hands.

Those percentages say a lot about how critical those first few years of life can be for any child.

“The brain, just like our muscles, have a ‘use it or lose it’ principal,” Mills said Tuesday night at the second bornlearning workshop.

That’s why, as parents, we are responsible for stimulating all parts of the brain, she said.

But this task doesn’t have to be accomplished through buying expensive toys or learning programs.

Mills brought a basket of ordinary objects she found around her house and asked each of us to pick one and explain what our child could learn from it.

My co-worker Ronica Shannon got an orange measuring cup. I mean, it’s not an Easy Bake Oven, but as we sat around and brainstormed, there were lots of things her daughter Erica could learn from a simple orange measuring cup.

For example, they could discuss color, shape, the numbers on the cup, it could become a drum and it would “automatically become a hat,” Ronica said.

Children can learn using ordinary objects during everyday activities, Mills said, but it also requires lots and lots of talking ― no matter what age or learning stage of your child.

Mills recalled how last week during the Berea Christmas parade, a man was standing behind her holding a small child. As the parade entries went by, the man not only said what it was, but explained what they do.

I remember during that parade, Ryker was telling me what he saw (or thought he saw) and attempted to explain it to me, not the other way around.

“Horses,” he said. “Neigh, neigh!” He called a dragon a dinosaur (close enough). He didn’t understand everything he saw, but he didn’t have to. Learning happens during the process of figuring it out.

Mills said giving a child a constant “play-by-play” about everyday activities is essential in brain and speech development ― even when you’re doing laundry or buying groceries.

When Ryker was an infant, I would tell him about the stories I was writing or what I thought about the situation in the Middle East. Although I knew he didn’t understand what I was saying, he would still babble back at me like we were engaged in conversation.

“Infants need conversation too,” Mills said. “Just because they don’t talk, it doesn’t mean we don’t talk to them. Conversations can be limitless, it doesn’t really matter what you talk about.”

Repeating what your child says and responding to them sends a message to your child that you are listening and their thoughts and ideas are important, she said. This helps children gain confidence to better express themselves, which enhances brain development.

Just a few months ago I saw a news report about the “terrible twos” and my ears immediately perked up ― my son is getting ready to be a “terrible two,” I thought. The report said children overcome the terrible twos as soon as they are able to communicate their needs and wants.

So whenever Ryker points at something and begins to whine for it I say “use your words,” and he immediately starts to name off whatever words come to mind. This stops him from being obnoxious and it engages him in learning new words.

Just like the first workshop, all the families were provided with dinner and excellent child care by three Berea Community students while parents remained in the workshop (all free). The children were kept in one of the kindergarden rooms full of engaging activities and toys. Ryker loved the fish tank.  

At the end of the class, the parents got a pile of free stuff like books, flashcards and notepads.

Throughout the workshop, the adults used this child-free time to bounce ideas off one another and share experiences only parents would truly understand. Although much of the class material was information some of us had probably heard before (or was already practicing), having this unique opportunity to discuss our children with a group of parents, proved to be very valuable.

The next bornlearning workshop is Jan. 15 from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Those who are interested in joining may contact Diane Smith at 986-1021 by Jan. 11 to reserve a spot.

Crystal Wylie can be reached at or 623-1669, Ext. 6696.

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