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When do children start learning?

As a parent, I am sure you have frequently asked yourself the inevitable question: “When does learning actually begin?”

Is it the first day at preschool or kindergarten, when the parent places the child in a formal teaching environment? Or is it maybe during the toddler years, when the child is attempting its first steps and learning to hold a spoon? Perhaps you’ve encountered the theory where children learn most intensively between the ages 0 – 3 years old?

So, any way you look at it, learning starts right after birth. Right?

It turns out, some of the most important learning a child will ever experience starts already in the mother’s womb.

I stumbled upon an incredibly inspiring TED Talk by Annie Murphy Paul, author of “Origins”, a report from the front lines of a field called Fetal Origins. In this field, specialists report a person’s future health and well-being depends on the 9 months spent in the mum’s womb.

You might think that a baby, when it’s born, is like a "tabula rasa" – a clean slate - where all of life’s impressions will only start making a mark after birth. The truth is, we are already shaped and formed (to a certain extent) by the world that our mothers were in during their pregnancy.

The first thing a baby in the womb learns is the mother’s voice, unsurprisingly. The astonishing thing, however, is that it also learns the mother’s accent. “From the moment of birth, babies cry in the accent of their mother's native language. French babies cry on a rising note while German babies end on a falling note, imitating the melodic contours of those languages”, says Annie. Scientists say this knowledge of accent could even provide a head-start for the baby in learning how to speak and understand its mother tongue.

Language is just one of the things that is learnt by the baby when in the mother’s womb. Consider also eating habits, emotional states and physical strength. All this is impacted by the 9 months of growing in the mum’s tummy.

Check out Annie’s truly fascinating talk about learning here. Definitely recommended!

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