Baby Brain Power: How Much Do Newborns Really Know?


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When you bring your newborn home for the first time, it can be pretty scary. This tiny little creature is a mystery — and you’re completely in charge of her well-being. Communication seems out of the question. After all, she can’t talk and doesn’t even seem to realize you’re even in the room with her.

But take heart. Pediatricians and researchers say newborns and very young children actually can understand, sense and respond to much more than adults may realize. And that means you can start fostering a strong relationship from the very day you meet your new baby.

Dr. Kathleen Clarke-Pearson, a pediatrician in Chapel Hill, points out that very early on, infants have the ability to interact based on basic perceptions. “They can recognize faces very early on,” she says. “They’re born with billions of neurons that immediately begin connecting as they grow.”

Clarke-Pearson says when parents come in to see her with their baby, she’ll often point this out. “I’ll coo at the baby and say, ‘See how she’s looking at me? She’s only two weeks old and she can already tell I’m different from you!’”

Budding Einstein

But facial recognition is just the tip of what infants can comprehend, according to Elizabeth Brannon, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke University. Brannon says over the last five decades, experts have discovered that even in the first year of life, infants are extremely aware of the world around them.

“Every parent knows if you’re trying to keep a baby entertained, you might do something like shake a rattle for them to get their attention focused on that,” she says. “But then you find the baby gets bored, and what do you do? You find something else to show her to get her attention again.”

That doesn’t show that she’s not thinking — just the opposite. When that first rattle stops getting your baby’s attention, Brannon explains, it’s because your baby has studied it, comprehended it and is ready to explore something new. That’s showing that her mind is able to process information, make sense of it and file it away, ready for more input.

Babies can understand more than just a toy rattling in front of their face. Brannon cites a study during which researchers showed babies photos of different cats. The babies would study each picture with interest. But after the third or fourth picture of a cat, Brannon says, the baby would grow bored and look away or start fussing. Then, researchers would hold up a photo of a dog, and the baby’s interest would return.

“This shows even very young babies can differentiate between categories,” Brannon says, even something as similar as a dog and cat. After all, they both have four legs and fur. But the babies in the study could tell something was different between them.

“They also have abstract ideas about numbers,” Brannon says. When babies were shown images consisting of groups of eight objects, for example, they lost interest after viewing a series of photos with the same number of objects. But when those babies were shown an image with 16 objects? “They immediately showed more interest again,” Brannon says, indicating that babies can comprehend abstract concepts.

Emotional Awareness

Mother of three Lena Dyhrberg, a family health nurse for three-and-a-half decades and author of “Born Wise: New Information That Will Change Your View on Infants Forever,” believes newborns and very young children have a greater emotional awareness than adults sometimes acknowledge, too.

“Your child is born with a very fine intuition,” Dyhrberg says. “He feels everything around him.” So babies immediately have an awareness of the world that includes perceiving his parents’ emotions. If you’re feeling down one day, Dyhrberg says, you might find your baby to be fussy or crying that day, too. But when you’re feeling relaxed and comfortable, your baby will often respond in a similar way. Dyhrberg says he’s picking up on your signals and responding to them in a kind of emotional communication between you.

Basic Conversations

Experts say you can help nurture your child’s natural awareness every day. Around nine months of age, Brannon says, babies start showing “joint attention.” This means she’ll follow your gaze and even go so far as to point at what you’re looking at. “These are clues that the baby is beginning to pay attention to something that’s interesting to you,” Brannon says.

This is your opportunity to help build a connection between you and your baby and develop her future vocabulary, while also teaching her critical developmental skills that will help her interact with others in the future.

“When your baby points at something, you can respond by labeling it,” Brannon says.

So, if your baby is suddenly attracted to a bird at the bird feeder, you might say, “Oh, you see the bird! That’s a pretty blue bird, isn’t it?”

And while it’s perfectly OK to narrate your day to your baby to help her learn language and interaction skills by saying, “Let’s put this box of cereal in the cart,” or “Listen! You can hear the dog barking,” Brannon says research backs that parents who let infants and young children direct that line of narration themselves end up helping their child foster and refine language development even more. So, if you observe your child and see her attention is on that box of cereal on the shelf, you can say, “Oh, that’s a big box of cereal, isn’t it? It has a horse on the box!”

By letting your child lead the “conversation,” you’re talking with him rather than at him, even though he doesn’t have verbal skills yet. You’ll be helping build those connections in his brain, strengthening the bond between the two of you, and setting him on the best possible path for future emotional and intellectual growth.

Making that connection is what’s critical, Clarke-Pearson says. “I was at the park and saw parents on their phones, completely ignoring their little children,” she says. “It was a missed opportunity for both parent and child!”

Dyhrberg agrees. “Talk with your baby,” she says. “He understands you more than you think.”

Kathleen M. Reilly is a writer and mom in the Triangle. Visit her online at kathleenreilly.com.

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Website »

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Amongst the ancient oak trees is the heart of Raleigh. We'll help you see the forest for the trees and all its magic splendor. Tourist, local, or new to town, this is a lively small group activity...

Cost: $11

Where:
Downtown
500 S Salisbury St
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: Let's Roam
Telephone: 833-202-7626
Contact Name: Kelly
Website »

More information

Summer Garden Camps at the JCRA invite your child to investigate nature during half or full day camps.  Campers tend to the garden, harvest vegetables, catch insects, and create crafts from the...

Cost: Varies depending on week of camp

Where:
JC Raulston Arboretum
4415 Beryl Rd
Raleigh, NC  27606
View map »


Sponsor: JC Raulston Arboretum
Telephone: (919) 513-7011
Contact Name: Elizabeth Overcash
Website »

More information

Summer Garden Camps at the JCRA invite your child to investigate nature during half or full day camps.  Campers tend to the garden, harvest vegetables, catch insects, and create crafts from the...

Cost: Varies depending on camp week

Where:
JC Raulston Arboretum
4415 Beryl Rd
Raleigh, NC  27606
View map »


Sponsor: JC Raulston Arboretum
Telephone: (919) 513-7011
Contact Name: Elizabeth Overcash
Website »

More information

Kindermusik is a research-based early childhood curriculum that includes 45-minute classroom lessons with materials and resources that encourages parental involvement . Research has linked...

Cost: $70/month

Where:
Hope Community Building
2080 E Williams St
Hope Community Building, Fuquay Varina Room
Apex/Holly Springs, NC  27539
View map »


Telephone: 191-990-25432
Contact Name: Leigh Hamm
Website »

More information

Sign up for a Raleigh scavenger hunt and put on your best Nick Cage impression as you seek out the national treasures hidden in Raleigh. Via an app, be guided through the cultural, historical,...

Cost: See website for fees

Where:
Downtown Raleigh
500 S. Salisbury St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: LetsRoam!
Telephone: 833-202-7626
Contact Name: LetsRoam!
Website »

More information

It's time to play... TAKEOUT BINGO!!!  Take a screenshot or download the game board. Mark off the locations you visit. Share your progress on Facebook and Instagram using #CRTakeoutBingo. Send...

Cost: FREE

Where:
Crossroads Plaza
Crossroad Blvd
Suite 215
Cary, NC  27518
View map »


Sponsor: Crossroads Plaza/ Kimco Realty
Telephone: 864-979-2291
Contact Name: Katie Earnhardt
Website »

More information

Short class advertising for local class   I am a mom and retired CPA who is passionate about teaching teens about the high cost of their choices. I teach a fun, interactive "Game of Life meets...

Cost: $225

Where:
Hope Community Church- Apex
2080 E Williams Street
Apex, NC  27539
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Sponsor: Beyond Personal Finance
Contact Name: Charla McKinley
Website »

More information

Short class advertising for local class   I am a mom and retired CPA who is passionate about teaching teens about the high cost of their choices. I teach a fun, interactive "Game of Life meets...

Cost: $225

Where:
Hope Community Church- Apex
2080 E Williams Street
Apex, NC  27539
View map »


Sponsor: Beyond Personal Finance
Contact Name: Charla McKinley
Website »

More information

I am a mom and retired CPA who is passionate about teaching teens about the high cost of their choices. I teach a fun, interactive "Game of Life meets Dave Ramsey" class that has teens experience...

Cost: $225

Where:
Hope Community Church- Apex
2080 E Williams Street
Apex, NC  27539
View map »


Sponsor: Beyond Personal Finance
Contact Name: Charla McKinley
Website »

More information

We invite all Triangle youth between the ages of 8 thru 17 with a sincere interest in the Performance Art of Magic to join Magic Youth Raleigh! This youth program teaches magic history and theory,...

Cost: $35 per Student

Where:
New Horizons Fellowship
820 E. Williams St.
Apex, NC  27502
View map »


Sponsor: The International Brotherhood of Magicians
Contact Name: Roger Way
Website »

More information

Young children and their families are invited to participate in an interactive program with books, songs, movement, and other early literacy-based activities, carefully selected to engage an...

Cost: Free

Where:
Cameron Village Regional Library
1930 Clark Avenue
Raleigh, NC  27605
View map »


Sponsor: Wake County Public Libraries

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The Engage Art Contest is a juried competition for original Visual Art, Music Video, Film and Performing Arts. The topic is the Spiritual Battle described in Ephesians 6:10-20 and related...

Cost: Free

Where:
Online
PO Box 78951
Charlotte, NC  28271
View map »


Sponsor: Engage Art Contest
Telephone: 980-999-1447
Contact Name: Ranika Chaney
Website »

More information

Forget tourist-filled museums, make your own memories with a photo scavenger hunt tour in Raleigh! On a Let’s Roam scavenger hunt, you and your team will work together to wander throughout...

Cost: $11

Where:
500 S Salisbury St
raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: Let's Roam
Website »

More information

Summer Garden Camps at the JCRA invite your child to investigate nature during half or full day camps.  Campers tend to the garden, harvest vegetables, catch insects, and create crafts from the...

Cost: Varies depending on camp week

Where:
JC Raulston Arboretum
4415 Beryl Rd
Raleigh, NC  27606
View map »


Sponsor: JC Raulston Arboretum
Telephone: (919) 513-7011
Contact Name: Elizabeth Overcash
Website »

More information

Summer Garden Camps at the JCRA invite your child to investigate nature during half or full day camps.  Campers tend to the garden, harvest vegetables, catch insects, and create crafts from the...

Cost: Varies depending on week of camp

Where:
JC Raulston Arboretum
4415 Beryl Rd
Raleigh, NC  27606
View map »


Sponsor: JC Raulston Arboretum
Telephone: (919) 513-7011
Contact Name: Elizabeth Overcash
Website »

More information

Amongst the ancient oak trees is the heart of Raleigh. We'll help you see the forest for the trees and all its magic splendor. Tourist, local, or new to town, this is a lively small group activity...

Cost: $11

Where:
Downtown
500 S Salisbury St
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: Let's Roam
Telephone: 833-202-7626
Contact Name: Kelly
Website »

More information

The Community Farm at Chestnut Ridge + Growga are excited to offer outdoor yoga classes this spring!   The Little Sprouts Growga program is for ages 2-5. They learn basic mindfulness elements...

Cost: $150

Where:
The Community Farm at Chestnut Ridge
2902 Mt. Willing Road
Efland, NC  27243
View map »


Sponsor: The Community Farm at Chestnut Ridge
Telephone: 919-304-2178
Contact Name: Erica Romkema
Website »

More information

Kindermusik is a research-based early childhood curriculum that includes 45-minute classroom lessons with materials and resources that encourages parental involvement . Research has linked...

Cost: $70/month

Where:
Hope Community Building
2080 E Williams St
Hope Community Building, Fuquay Varina Room
Apex/Holly Springs, NC  27539
View map »


Telephone: 191-990-25432
Contact Name: Leigh Hamm
Website »

More information

Sign up for a Raleigh scavenger hunt and put on your best Nick Cage impression as you seek out the national treasures hidden in Raleigh. Via an app, be guided through the cultural, historical,...

Cost: See website for fees

Where:
Downtown Raleigh
500 S. Salisbury St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: LetsRoam!
Telephone: 833-202-7626
Contact Name: LetsRoam!
Website »

More information

It's time to play... TAKEOUT BINGO!!!  Take a screenshot or download the game board. Mark off the locations you visit. Share your progress on Facebook and Instagram using #CRTakeoutBingo. Send...

Cost: FREE

Where:
Crossroads Plaza
Crossroad Blvd
Suite 215
Cary, NC  27518
View map »


Sponsor: Crossroads Plaza/ Kimco Realty
Telephone: 864-979-2291
Contact Name: Katie Earnhardt
Website »

More information

We invite all Triangle youth between the ages of 8 thru 17 with a sincere interest in the Performance Art of Magic to join Magic Youth Raleigh! This youth program teaches magic history and theory,...

Cost: $35 per Student

Where:
New Horizons Fellowship
820 E. Williams St.
Apex, NC  27502
View map »


Sponsor: The International Brotherhood of Magicians
Contact Name: Roger Way
Website »

More information

Young children and their families are invited to participate in an interactive program with books, songs, movement, and other early literacy-based activities, carefully selected to engage an...

Cost: Free

Where:
Cameron Village Regional Library
1930 Clark Avenue
Raleigh, NC  27605
View map »


Sponsor: Wake County Public Libraries

More information

The park comes alive after dark! Let the moon guide your way as we stroll around the pond in search of these night-time critters. Play fun games and try to catch some nocturnal bugs! Don't forget a...

Cost: FREE. Registration required for everyone; children must have adult accompaniment

Where:
Crowder County Park
4709 Ten-Ten Rd
Apex, NC  27529
View map »


Telephone: 919-662-2850
Website »

More information

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The Engage Art Contest is a juried competition for original Visual Art, Music Video, Film and Performing Arts. The topic is the Spiritual Battle described in Ephesians 6:10-20 and related...

Cost: Free

Where:
Online
PO Box 78951
Charlotte, NC  28271
View map »


Sponsor: Engage Art Contest
Telephone: 980-999-1447
Contact Name: Ranika Chaney
Website »

More information

Forget tourist-filled museums, make your own memories with a photo scavenger hunt tour in Raleigh! On a Let’s Roam scavenger hunt, you and your team will work together to wander throughout...

Cost: $11

Where:
500 S Salisbury St
raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: Let's Roam
Website »

More information

  Meet at the Waterwise Garden (first parking lot on right) Join our bird enthusiast, Vernon, for an easy walk while looking and listening for our feathered friends. Discover...

Cost: FREE

Where:
Lake Crabtree County Park
1400 Aviation Pkwy.
Morrisville, NC  27560
View map »


Sponsor: Lake Crabtree County Park
Telephone: 919-460-3355
Contact Name: Carol Cunningham
Website »

More information

Summer Garden Camps at the JCRA invite your child to investigate nature during half or full day camps.  Campers tend to the garden, harvest vegetables, catch insects, and create crafts from the...

Cost: Varies depending on week of camp

Where:
JC Raulston Arboretum
4415 Beryl Rd
Raleigh, NC  27606
View map »


Sponsor: JC Raulston Arboretum
Telephone: (919) 513-7011
Contact Name: Elizabeth Overcash
Website »

More information

PARENTS JOIN OUR DHHS APPROVEDCPR/AED & First Aid Certification ClassesFoster parents are required to be CPR & First Aid certified. Parents, bring your child to class with you. Children 10 years...

Cost: 50-80

Where:
Holly Springs, NC
1001 Silverstone Way
Holly Springs, NC  27540
View map »


Sponsor: Save A Life Now Training Center LLC
Telephone: 919-215-6942
Contact Name: Valentina Cordoba
Website »

More information

Summer Garden Camps at the JCRA invite your child to investigate nature during half or full day camps.  Campers tend to the garden, harvest vegetables, catch insects, and create crafts from the...

Cost: Varies depending on camp week

Where:
JC Raulston Arboretum
4415 Beryl Rd
Raleigh, NC  27606
View map »


Sponsor: JC Raulston Arboretum
Telephone: (919) 513-7011
Contact Name: Elizabeth Overcash
Website »

More information

PARENTS JOIN OUR DHHS APPROVEDCPR/AED & First Aid Certification ClassesFoster parents are required to be CPR & First Aid certified. Must register in advance. Space is limited. Parents, bring your...

Cost: 50-80

Where:
Holly Springs, NC
1001 Silverstone Way
Holly Springs, NC  27540
View map »


Sponsor: Save A Life Now Training Center LLC
Telephone: 919-215-6942
Contact Name: Valentina Cordoba
Website »

More information

Amongst the ancient oak trees is the heart of Raleigh. We'll help you see the forest for the trees and all its magic splendor. Tourist, local, or new to town, this is a lively small group activity...

Cost: $11

Where:
Downtown
500 S Salisbury St
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: Let's Roam
Telephone: 833-202-7626
Contact Name: Kelly
Website »

More information

Enjoy a wonderful springtime Brunch with the Bunny and photo op on Saturday, April 4, 2020 at Patterson Farm Market & Tours. Our Brunch with the Bunny is always a popular event! Tickets must be...

Cost: Ages 2 – 6: $10.00 includes tax Ages 6 – 12: $12.00 includes tax Ages: 13 – 54

Where:
Patterson Farm Inc. Market and Tours
10390 Caldwell Road
Mount Ulla, NC  28125
View map »


Sponsor: Patterson Farm Inc. Market and Tours
Telephone: 704-636-4005
Contact Name: Megan Hedrick
Website »

More information

Opportunities to explore all 4 levels of the mill don’t happen often! Learn the history of milling in North Carolina, test your mill trivia, and discover what interesting machinery is preserved...

Cost: $10/Adult; $8/Senior (ages 60+); $6/Child (ages 10-16);Registration is required

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Road
Raleigh, NC  27603
View map »


Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

Beavers are such busy creatures and have many unique features that allow them to survive in their aquatic world. Learn about their special adaptations through our "Build a Beaver" program then walk...

Cost: Free

Where:
Harris Lake County Park
2112 County Park Dr.
New Hill, NC  27562
View map »


Sponsor: Harris Lake County Park
Telephone: 919-387-4342
Contact Name: Joanne St. Clair
Website »

More information

The Town of Holly Spring's annual spring event, Spring Fling, is taking on a new location that has a nice ring to it. This year’s Spring Fling at Ting! will take place on Saturday, April 4 from...

Cost: FREE

Where:
Ting Park Baseball Stadium
1151 N. Main St.
Holly Springs, NC  27540
View map »


Sponsor: Town of Holly Springs
Contact Name: Rachel Downey

More information

Join us for an egg-cellent time on the farm Saturday, April 4 & 11,  2020 from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Explore the farm while you hunt for eggs and enjoy spring farm fun activities. Search for 12...

Cost: $10.00 for Hunters $7.00 for Non-Egg Hunters $6.00 for Non-Egg Hunters Senior (A

Where:
Patterson Farm Inc. Market and Tours
10390 Caldwell Road
Mount Ulla, NC  28125
View map »


Sponsor: Patterson Farm Inc. Market and Tours
Telephone: 704-636-4005
Contact Name: Megan Hedrick
Website »

More information

Kindermusik is a research-based early childhood curriculum that includes 45-minute classroom lessons with materials and resources that encourages parental involvement . Research has linked...

Cost: $70/month

Where:
Hope Community Building
2080 E Williams St
Hope Community Building, Fuquay Varina Room
Apex/Holly Springs, NC  27539
View map »


Telephone: 191-990-25432
Contact Name: Leigh Hamm
Website »

More information

Many wildflowers bloom in spring.  Join us for a leisurely hike through our fields and woods as we learn to recognize some blooming beauties and appreciate their stories. Age: 5yrs. and up;...

Cost: $2

Where:
Annie Louis Wilkerson. MD Nature Preserve Park
5229 Awls Haven Dr
Raleigh, NC  27614
View map »


Telephone: 919-996-6764
Contact Name: Bryan England
Website »

More information

Sign up for a Raleigh scavenger hunt and put on your best Nick Cage impression as you seek out the national treasures hidden in Raleigh. Via an app, be guided through the cultural, historical,...

Cost: See website for fees

Where:
Downtown Raleigh
500 S. Salisbury St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: LetsRoam!
Telephone: 833-202-7626
Contact Name: LetsRoam!
Website »

More information

Want to get inside Historic Yates Mill? Join us for a half-hour tour (starting at 1, 1:30, 2, 2:30 or 3 p.m.) to view the main power drive and milling machinery while exploring the mill's history...

Cost: $5/Adult, $4/Senior (60+ yrs), $3/Child (7-16yrs), Free/Child (6yrs & younger)

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Road
Raleigh, NC  27603
View map »


Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

Bring the whole family for this fun interactive Growga family class. Siblings and parents come together for a fun Growga hour, combining elements of our Little Sprouts and Growga Kids programs...

Cost: $150

Where:
The Community Farm at Chestnut Ridge
2902 Mt. Willing Road
Efland, NC  27243
View map »


Sponsor: Chestnut Ridge Camp & Retreat Center
Telephone: 919-304-2178
Contact Name: Erica Romkema
Website »

More information

It's time to play... TAKEOUT BINGO!!!  Take a screenshot or download the game board. Mark off the locations you visit. Share your progress on Facebook and Instagram using #CRTakeoutBingo. Send...

Cost: FREE

Where:
Crossroads Plaza
Crossroad Blvd
Suite 215
Cary, NC  27518
View map »


Sponsor: Crossroads Plaza/ Kimco Realty
Telephone: 864-979-2291
Contact Name: Katie Earnhardt
Website »

More information

We invite all Triangle youth between the ages of 8 thru 17 with a sincere interest in the Performance Art of Magic to join Magic Youth Raleigh! This youth program teaches magic history and theory,...

Cost: $35 per Student

Where:
New Horizons Fellowship
820 E. Williams St.
Apex, NC  27502
View map »


Sponsor: The International Brotherhood of Magicians
Contact Name: Roger Way
Website »

More information

Young children and their families are invited to participate in an interactive program with books, songs, movement, and other early literacy-based activities, carefully selected to engage an...

Cost: Free

Where:
Cameron Village Regional Library
1930 Clark Avenue
Raleigh, NC  27605
View map »


Sponsor: Wake County Public Libraries

More information

Topper the Bunny can’t wait to see you at the 5th Annual Egg-ceptional Egg Hunt at Hubb’s Farm in Clinton, NC, features age-appropriate egg hunts with a grand finale airplane egg drop at 3pm...

Cost: 10

Where:
Hubb's Farm
10276 US HWY 421 N
Clinton, NC  28328
View map »


Sponsor: Hubb's Farm
Telephone: 910-564-6709
Contact Name: Tammy Peterson
Website »

More information

Garner Sports League Opening Day Ceremony will be held at South Garner Park at 9am on Saturday April 4, 2020.  Come join us as we kick off the Spring season for recreational baseball, fast-pitch...

Cost: 0.00

Where:
South Garner Park
1210 Poole Drive
Garner, NC  27529
View map »

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