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The Myth of Baby Geniuses

Recent reports suggesting that the first three years of life is when a child's brain forms important connections, with lifelong implications for learning, have led many parents to fill nurseries with high-tech toys, flash cards, and Baby Bach tapes  -- all to try and avoid irreversible limits on their infant's potential. But a growing number of experts stress that this idea of a critical period when the brain absorbs greater amounts of information is too rigid  -- and that such efforts may be misguided.

While there is an initial explosion of brain synapses after birth, synaptic connections continue to form well into adolescence, according to a recent study from the University of Chicago. "Any suggestion that not taking advantage of this early brain development means your child's potential won't be realized is simply not true," says William Greenough, Ph.D., a brain researcher with the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Experts now believe that kids who lack earlier advantages can make up for it later, and that some areas of the brain  -- such as the prefrontal cortex where higher thought, reasoning, judgment, and motivation form  -- continue to develop until midadolescence.

The bottom line, say experts: Taking very young children to activities such as music lessons, gymnastics, and craft workshops is fine in moderation, but parents shouldn't do it to make their child smarter.