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Every time I take a baby in my arms I get lost in the warmth and the beautiful baby smell, but when I notice the intense gaze I always wonder, ‘What does this baby think about?’

I have the opportunity of working with babies day in and day out, so this question about babies’ thoughts kept popping up again and again. It led me to do some research on the emerging science of children’s minds.

What I found, completely blew me away.

Scientists like Alison Gopnik and Andrew Meltzoff have proved beyond doubt, through rigorous experiments, that at birth, babies can distinguish human faces and voices from other sights and sounds. They even have a preference for familiar faces, voices and smells.

What’s more amazing is that they recognise their mother’s voices based on the audible sounds they hear in the womb. Even before babies learn to crawl or walk or talk, they are able to differentiate between happy faces and sad faces. Babies’ thoughts can develop from an early stage.

How did the researchers come to this conclusion? They turned on two different soundtracks with a happy voice and a sad voice and found that babies looked longer at the face displaying the emotion that they heard. This happened not once but repeatedly.

One-month-old babies can imitate facial expressions like sticking out one’s tongue. While at first glance it may not seem very significant, it is actually quite magical, given that the baby thinks about this action when it does not even know where the tongue and lips are.

The implications of these findings are immense not only for parents but also for caregivers and educators. As neuroscience techniques have improved, they have shown how the different stimuli emerging from the environment shape the baby’s brain and what the baby thinks.

An adult brain has about 100 billion neurons, which remain roughly the same through one’s life. What changes are the connections between the neurons.

How do these connections form? After birth, as the child experiences different sensory stimuli, the neurons begin to form connections. The point to note is that the process of formation of connections happens at a wildly faster rate in babies than in adults.

All of this research supports the fact that early years are the foundation years when we learn most and our brains are open to new experiences. Preschool children have brains that are more active, more connected and more flexible than adult brains. As such, the experiences in daycare and preschool have a lasting impact on children and affects babies’ thoughts.

So now when I take a baby in my arms, I feel responsible for the experience and appreciate how my short positive interaction with the baby or toddler will play a role in shaping their worldview and influence how the baby thinks.

Pooja Goyal

Pooja is an acclaimed educator working to transform early childhood education through application of neuroscience research to learning in the early years. She is the founder of Intellitots Learning (acquired by Founding Years) which is known for its ground breaking work in the field of early childhood education and care. Pooja is an angel investor and a mentor to many start ups, business leaders and educators.