Socializing Baby

By Renee Haines
That first big smile can be a baby’s early way of socializing with mom or dad. Even before the first hesitant steps or attempts at saying words, infants become social creatures through their interactions with objects, people and places.
Today’s parents can find dozens of ways inside and outside the home to encourage the socialization process, which researchers say provides the foundation for significant childhood development benefits.
Internet search engines make it easy to obtain quick access to learning tools and the latest baby education research findings. Dozens of programs from Baby Time at the local library to area baby swimming and music classes promote socialization skills for our littlest kids.
In San Antonio, Love to Swim School and Aqua-Tots Swim School offer baby splash and swimming classes. Treehouse Music Together offers area classes involving songs and instruments for students as young as 4 months old. The Little Gym’s area classes teach exercise and early socializing skills to infants, too.
Avance-San Antonio, the award-winning nonprofit parent-child education program, has been focusing on baby socialization for 42 years. “Research shows that 60 percent of what a child is going to learn is going to happen during those first four years of life. We start at the very beginning,” says Yesenia Gonzalez, director of parenting programs at Avance.
“For us, it’s important to have the parents understand that they’re the first and most important teacher,” Gonzalez says. “It’s important to hold your baby and have that eye-to-eye contact. Those bonding moments are forever.”
Gonzalez says research shows that babies respond with distressed expressions or wide smiles to a caregiver’s frown or smiling and cooing. They also respond to the physical presence of books, toys and other infants in a room. “Babies love to interact,” she says.
Programs for parents and infants and toddlers under the age of 3 offer classes where they socialize with each other while learning communications and early childhood development skills.
Parents are encouraged to bond with their babies through touch, talk and facial expression.

Mirrors are placed low on walls at Avance’s child development center. “As they start crawling, babies see their image and are eager to get close to the mirror. This is where mom and dad come together to encourage baby to do that,” Gonzalez says.


Inside Baby Classrooms

At Primrose School of Stone Oak in San Antonio, infant classes encourage “social-emotional development” by responding to infants’ needs and initiating playful interactions. Teaching infants and caretakers baby sign language allows babies who cannot yet verbalize a way to communicate their needs.

“Many people underestimate the capacity of how much they understand, even though they can’t use words,” says owner Evelyn Montalvan. “It’s amazing to see a 9-month-old sitting on a mat asking for milk.”

Because infants learn and respond differently from birth to age 1, they transition to different baby classrooms as they advance. The common denominator for all children is playtime, she adds. “Play is a big part in how children learn,” she says.

Because private Primrose Schools for infants and preschoolers operate around the country, Montalvan can tap the latest studies and findings on child development through the national office’s research department.
Parents, too, have more access than in the past as child socialization studies are often published on the Internet. However, increased access to laptops, e-readers and smart phones does not supplant old-fashioned teaching tools.
Montalvan said one father who was asked to bring his children’s favorite books to a book fair responded that he didn’t have any at home. Their books were on e-readers. Infants need physical contact with books, she explained to him. “Infants learn through all their senses. It’s normal for an infant to mouth everything, even the books we provide them,” she says.
The American Academy of Pediatrics discourages access to television screens, computers, smart phones, tablets and other electronic devices for children under 2.
Research has shown no benefits from screen time. Yet, one survey of nearly 400 parents presented to the Pediatric Academic Societies in April found that more than one-third of babies from the age of 6 months are playing with smart phones and tablets. By age 1, one in seven are using devices for at least an hour a day. By 2, most children were using mobile devices, the researchers learned.
An easy way to unplug your baby is to take him outside, where studies show that interactions with nature can benefit the social, emotional and intellectual development of children of all ages, according to the national Children & Nature Network.

Socializing Outdoors

Baby strollers are a common sight along woodland trails and gardens at the nonprofit Cibolo Nature Center & Farm in Boerne, which is open to the public from dawn to dusk each day.
“It’s extraordinary to watch their smiles and tiny hands reaching up in wonder at discovering the sounds and sights of nature,” Carolyn Chipman Evans, executive director of the 160-acre grounds, says about the center’s youngest visitors.
“Socializing with nature is such a healthy way for children of all ages to actively engage their senses,” says Chipman Evans. “Dozens of research studies have measured the significant social development and intellectual benefits that come with connecting to outdoor settings from the earliest age.”
Yet, research also shows that too few children are exposed to nature centers, public parks and other outdoor venues because of distance and time constraints – a situation often described as “nature deficit disorder.”
Chipman Evans says the nonprofit Boerne nature center has become a popular destination for urban San Antonio families looking for nearby wild places to bring babies and older children. The center has Little Explorers classes each Tuesday for preschool-age kids and summer nature camps for kids 5-12.
At the Library 
Free Baby Time classes are offered to parents and infants each week at several San Antonio Public Library branches. “It’s a way for moms and babies to socialize with each other and with the library,” says Viki Ash, coordinator of children’s services at the San Antonio Public Library.
“We’re very interested in early literacy development and vocabulary. Listening to the human voice is important to brain development,” Ash says.
For example, parents can clap their hands to rhymes that are read aloud for infants, who also are encouraged to touch sturdy baby board books. “We buy board books and replace them with amazing regularity. They’re for babies to explore,” she says.
Recommended read-aloud e-books and hardcover editions for toddlers and older kids are available for infants of library members, too. “Parents can say, look, he’s only 1 and he’s in the reading club,” Ash says. “We’re not trying to turn every baby into Baby Einstein. It’s very light-hearted.”
Membership, of course, is free at the local library, and so is the app to download e-books free to library cardholders. “When you’re going on a trip, it’s nice to know that we have kiosks at the airport where you can download books,” she adds.

Reading aloud to a baby is more than about developing specific skills. “It’s a wonderful bonding experience,” Ash says. “It’s a very loving way to spend time with a child.”


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