Environment Factors in Childhood Education
– Part 1
Everyday Consulting with Dr. Takao Takahashi
We sat down with Dr. Takao Takahashi professor of pediatrics at the Keio University School of Medicine to discuss “environmental factors” effecting children from the fetal stage to infancy. We have broken the interview into 3 separate posts.
It has become such commonplace for parents to think that it is best for their children to begin training in sports or studying as early as possible that we now often hear the words “Prenatal Education” and “Early Education”. However, we were curious to hear how experts in the field of childhood development felt about this.
Mother of one and editor of the birthing preparations site, K, met with Dr. Takahashi to discuss.
The important things are decided by our genes.
K: This time, I would like to discuss child brain development and education. We often hear the word “prenatal care” and have the image that by subjecting the baby’s mind to stimulants before being born you can help to improve their development. What do you think about this?
Dr. Takahashi: Before I tell you my thoughts on the subject, I have something else I would like to discuss. In the human brain we have folds or wrinkles, however, when do you think infants develop these wrinkles?
K: Hm, is it around the same time that babies begin to kick inside their mother’s stomachs?
Dr. Takahashi: Ah, you’re on the right track. Of the babies born prematurely, in Japan any child born after 22 weeks is treated as an independent human being. Speaking in terms of weight, this is about 300 grams. A tiny little person. From 22-25, 26 weeks, the infants brain doesn’t have any wrinkles. Babies born with no folds in their brain must be cared for in an incubator. Even a tiny child like that, if they remain in the incubator for 1-2 months, will begin to develop wrinkles in their brain.
Dr. Takahashi: Yes, it’s incredible. While in the incubator they can experience breathing complications, contract infections, and experience shock. However, the brain will develop folds correctly. The look of it, just like folding origami, is previously decided by genes. Even those born prematurely and being raised for months in an incubator will develop folds in their brain just like an adult. My point is, that even if the environmental factors are bad, thanks to the power of genes to create the correct brain shape and function, the most important pieces will be put together.
K: I see. I completely understand.
Dr. Takahashi: For example, weight changes drastically depending upon environmental factors such as diet and exercise, but height is, for the most part, decided by our genes. No matter how much you eat or go to the gym, it won’t really make you taller. The brain shape and function, also, are protected so as to not easily change by outside factors. Take, for example, a child raised in a tough environment and who does not receive enough nutrients. Even for them, the size, shape, and functions of their brain will not change. The brain is an extremely important organ and thus is strongly protected by our genes.
K: I feel like it’s all starting to make sense now. Haha. Actually, I’m quite short and it’s always been a complex of mine. When I was young I used to drink milk all the time to change this. So even then, the fact that I wasn’t getting taller was, from the very beginning, a problem with no solution. Heh.
Dr. Takahashi: Well, that is correct. Haha. A child born prematurely, for example, will develop both their body and brain; it’s as if those functions have been dormant the entire time. Watching a child develop is so sound and reliable, it makes you think about how humans have evolved from animals over time.
It is fact that child rearing begins from the fetal state.
K: I think there are a lot of mothers who play music for their unborn babies. How much can their hear this?
Dr. Takahashi: Sadly, they don’t hear most of it. They do, however, hear their mother’s heartbeat. Whether its Mozart or a construction site, its all the same to the baby.
K: Oh, really?! I am really surprised now.
Dr. Takahashi: But, if the mother thinks, “oh this is good music, I like this music,” and relaxes while she listens to it, I do think the mother’s feelings are being transmitted to the baby in some form. So it is not the type of music you play, it’s better to speak to the baby and tell them things like, “Mommy loves this song. Let’s listen together.” By encouraging that type of communication while they are in the womb, when they are born the relations with the parents begins right from “good job!” It is sad to say, but when mom and dad don’t take an interest in the baby before it’s born, it can, for example, create the same type of unhappiness as abuse once the baby is born.
K: So you mean that music doesn’t encourage growth but that through music a child can communicate with their parents and then when born they can have an affectionate start.
Dr. Takahashi: Yes. In that sense, it’s true that child rearing begins from the fetal state. On another subject, when a child is born with allergies or an illness, it is often blamed on the mother by those around her and herself for maybe continuing to work longer than needed while she was pregnant or for taking a plane to her hometown while pregnant. However, this is certainly not the case. Children are protected by genes they received 50/50 from both their mother and their father. They spend their time as if in a robust safe.
K: So a miscarriage or growth defects inside the uterus are not the fault of the mother.
Dr. Takahashi: Precisely. Most of the time, it isn’t the mother’s fault and it isn’t the obstetricians fault, it is simply the fate that the baby was born with.
What did you think of Dr. Takahashi’s responses?
The factors of a child’s growth and development are, simply, what the child was born with. The next installment of “Environment Factors in Childhood Education” will focus on “Should a parent’s dreams be entrusted to their children?” We can’t wait!
Dr. Takao Takahashi
Keio University School of Medicine – Professor of Pediatrics
Dr. Takahashi is a medical doctor whose area of expertise focuses on general and pediatric neurology.
After graduation from the Keio University School of Medicine in 1982, Dr. Takahashi went on to Harvard University in America where he practiced Pediatric Neurology at the Massachusetts General Hospital while also completing a degree in Neurology at the Harvard Graduate School. He returned to Japan in 1994 where he began teaching at the Keio University School of Medicine, where he remains today. His hobby is running. His personal record for a marathon was in the 2016 Tokyo Marathon with a time of 3 hours and 7 minutes. He is nicknamed “The fasted pediatrician in Japan.”