Skip to Content

Personal tools

I-LABS and the Natural-Born Genius of Babies

My four-week-old son peered around the living room, intently taking in everything: the ceiling fan, the dog, his baby swing, the voices of his parents, the crinkly cloth book we held in front of his attentive eyes.

As he looked around, his eyes twinkled with curiosity. Meanwhile, his little brain was working like a computer, sensing, assessing, and deciphering the wonder of it all.

As a new mom, I worried that I was not doing enough to help him learn, that my husband and I should devise brain-building exercises for our little one. But the fact is, his brain was working just fine. During infancy, when our brains are the most flexible, babies learn rapidly and effortlessly. And they learn best from us, their loved ones.

That is just one of the many findings of the UW’s internationally renowned Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences (I-LABS). Patricia Kuhl and Andrew Meltzoff, the institute’s co-founders, mesmerize people around the globe with their discoveries of the natural-born genius of babies. Their findings have revolutionized theories of human development, changed how people parent their children, and inspired early learning policy-making in Seattle and around the world.

The brain is a complicated, complex, amazing organ, and brain studies constitute one of the great frontiers in modern science.

Although I-LABS is a basic-research facility, a critical part of its mission is to ensure that the discoveries made here are applicable in the real world. That’s why—from King County to the White House and beyond—Kuhl and Meltzoff have distilled the science for policymakers who want to put the science of early learning into practice.

I-LABS will be a partner in the new National Center on Early Childhood Development, Teaching and Learning, which is funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that oversees Head Start. I-LABS will help develop resources for early childhood educators and those working with children in poverty.

The goal is to disseminate the latest science in child development to narrow the gap between scientific discovery and practical application and to help all children maximize their success and happiness. Early learning educators, parents, caregivers and policymakers are the most typical audiences that the outreach team works with. The team also forms partnerships with early childhood education organizations nationally and, coming soon, internationally, to help children.

Parents and politicians alike seek out I-LABS because the brain discoveries point to clear solutions on how to nurture children to give them the best possible start in life so they can reach their fullest potential.

Parents can access online training sessions at I-LABS on a variety of topics.

Related articles and resources:

Online Training Modules for Parents - Parents can access these I-LABS modules online to find out research-based information on topics ranging from the power of learning through imitation and understanding emotions.

YouTube Channel for I-LABS – Watch babies demonstrate all sorts of amazing development, including social-emotional and language development, in videos from I-LABS. Examples include how baby’s social skills are linked to learning a second language and how toddlers can regulate their behavior to avoid making adults angry.

How does baby learn? - Molly McElroy, PhD is a neuroscientist and a mom to a toddler. She wrote this sweeping overview of the research at I-LABS for the March Columns alumni magazine.

The Linguistic Genius of Babies - TED Talk by I-LABS scientist and c-director Patricia Kuhl

The Scientist in the Crib: What Early Learning Tells Us About the Mind - book by Andrew Meltzoff, scientist and co-director at I-LABS.

Testing My Kids for Science - blog from a PEPS mom about participating in many UW kid studies over the years.

About the Author

This article was adapted from a longer piece by Molly McElroy, Ph.D., How does baby learn? in the March 2016 Columns alumni magazine. Molly is a neuroscientist and a mom to a toddler. She is the communications and marketing manager at I-LABS. Follow her on Twitter: @mwmcelroy.


Document Actions