TIME

Scooters Leading Cause of Toy-Related Injuries This Christmas

Young boy riding scooter
Jill Tindall—Getty Images

Toys are leaping off the shelves faster than ever now that we’ve officially entered the holiday season, but a new study finds that many toys cause serious injury to children. The study, out Dec. 1, from the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, found that an estimated 3,278,073 kids in the United States were treated in emergency rooms after suffering toy-related injuries from 1990-2011. Even more alarming, every three minutes a child was treated for a toy-related injury in the year 2011 alone.

Toys foster imaginative learning and creativity, but parents may want to consider the types of toys their children are playing with. Study researchers found that the rate of toy-related injury rose by about 40 percent between 1990 and 2011–– in part because of the increased popularity of foot-powered scooters. From 2000 onward, there was an estimated one toy-related injury every 11 minutes, and children who were injured thanks to scooters were three times more likely to break or dislocate a bone.

“All children should use safety precautions when using a scooter or other riding toys,” says Dr. Gary Smith, study author and director of the Center for Injury Research and Policy. “The first three safety tips I give for preventing injuries on those toys are: 1. Wear a helmet. 2. Wear a helmet. 3. Wear a helmet. Buy a scooter, buy a helmet.” He notes that any adult planning on giving a scooter to a child should also make sure to get a helmet that fits. And take worthwhile precautions: only ride scooters on flat, dry surfaces away from motor vehicle traffic.

Hundreds of toys are recalled every year for being defective (Mattel alone recalled 19 million toys back in 2007), and there are numerous other ways kids can inadvertently injure themselves while playing –– from choking on a Lego to getting hit with a rogue baseball. Yet, researchers found that falls and collisions (as opposed to other injuries such as ingestion or aspiration) were the most frequent cause of toy-related injuries among children in all age groups. Falls accounted for 46 percent and collisions were responsible for 22 percent of injuries.

While more than half of toy injuries are sustained by children younger than five, injuries due to riding toys like scooters were shown to increase later into childhood. A whopping 42 percent of injuries in children ages 5 to 17 were attributed to scooter, tricycle or wagon accidents, while only 28 percent of injuries in children under five were attributed to these ride-along toys. (Though, it’s worth noting, that young children are at an increased risk for swallowing or ingesting small toy parts.)

So, how can parents protect their children from toy-related injuries this holiday season? “First, follow a toy’s age restrictions and any other guidelines from the manufacturer,” says Smith. “If a package label says that children younger than 3 years of age should not use the toy inside, it often means that the toy poses a choking risk to young children because of small parts. In addition, parents should check the website, Recalls.gov, to be sure that toys they already own have not been recalled, especially since there have been hundreds of toy recalls in the last decade.”

For more parenting stories and advice on raising a child in today’s world, check out the new TIME for Family subscription.

TIME

Supreme Court to Determine Workplace Pregnancy Protections for Moms-To-Be

The court will hear a discrimination case that seeks to make clear what accommodations employers must make to expecting mothers

Should a pregnant worker have the right to workplace accommodations, such as a chair to sit on as she works a cash register or more frequent bathroom breaks during her job as a call center operator?

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 was supposed to make the answers to those questions—in both instances—crystal clear. Congress passed it to overturn the Supreme Court’s 1976 decision that pregnancy discrimination is not sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

But over the years, employers have reached differing conclusions about how the Act’s language should be interpreted—specifically the line that says employers must treat pregnant women the same as “other persons not so affected [by pregnancy] but similar in their ability or inability to work.” Some companies have read that phrase to mean that they must meet the needs of pregnant women the same as they would meet the needs of any other worker who’s similarly physically restricted. But other employers believe that so long as their policies are pregnancy-neutral—which often means considering pregnancy the same way they would an off-the-job injury that garners no special treatment—they’re in the clear.

United Parcel Service abided by the latter interpretation in 2006, when it denied former truck driver Peggy Young’s request for light duty during her pregnancy, which forced her into unpaid leave. On Wednesday, the Supreme Court will hear Young’s case and ultimately rule on what accommodations employers must make under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, a decision that could touchthe lives of the 68 million working women in the U.S. and the 62% of new moms in the last year who were part of the workforce.

“This case is of particular importance because so many working women are now working well into their pregnancy,” says Katherine Kimpel, a lawyer at Sanford Heisler who specializes in gender and race discrimination and who filed an amicus brief in the case supporting Young. In the U.S., 65% of working, first-time mothers stayed on the job into their last month of their pregnancy, Kimpel says. Among full-time workers, that figure surges to 87%.

All the while, pregnancy discrimination cases are on the rise. In fiscal year 2013, 5,342 pregnancy discrimination charges were filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commissions and state and local Fair Employment Practices agencies, up from 3,900 in 1997. “For those reasons, how employers think about accommodating pregnancy really matters,” Kimpel says.

Peggy Young started working for UPS in 1999; in 2002, she took on a part-time role as a truck driver, picking up air shipments. Four years later, she took a leave of absence to receive in vitro fertilization. When she became pregnant and a midwife instructed her not to lift packages over 20 pounds, Young asked to return to UPS to do either light duty or her regular job as a truck driver, which seldom required her to lift heavy boxes. According to Young’s Supreme Court petition, her manager told her that UPS offered light duty to workers who sustained on-the-job injuries, employees with ailments covered by the Americans With Disabilities Act, and those who had lost Department of Transportation certification because of physical aliments like sleep apnea; not—the manager said—to pregnant workers. UPS wouldn’t allow Young to return to her former role either since her lifting restriction made her a liability. As a result, Young was required to go on extended, unpaid leave, during which she lost her medical coverage.

Young sued UPS in October 2008 for allegedly violating the Pregnancy Discrimination Act since the company failed to provide Young with the same accommodations it gave to employees who were not pregnant but equally unable to work. Young has lost the two previous rulings in the case. A district court decided in February 2011 that UPS’s decision not to accommodate Young was “gender-neutral” and ruled in the company’s favor. The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals later affirmed that decision, ruling UPS had established a “pregnancy-blind policy.”

Since the Supreme Court decided to hear the case in July, UPS has announced changes to its policy for pregnant workers. Next year, it will offer temporary light duty to pregnant workers who need it. Despite that reversal, UPS maintains that its denial of Young’s light duty request was lawful at the time and that its policy change is voluntary and not required by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. The Chamber of Commerce filed an amicus brief supporting UPS, calling attention to companies that offer pregnant employees “more than what federal law compels them to provide.”

Young, meanwhile, has received support from across the political spectrum. Pro-life organizations as well as groups like the American Civil Liberties Union have filed briefs backing Young and calling on the high court to rule in favor of workplace accommodations for expecting mothers.

The justices will hear Young’s case nearly six months after the EEOC issued new guidelines to employers on how to treat pregnant workers amid the increase in bias complaints.

“There are lots of women like Peggy Young who need temporary changes at work during pregnancy and too often, even if employers are routinely accommodating disabled workers, pregnant workers are pushed out to unpaid leave or fired,” says Emily Martin, vice president and general counsel of National Women’s Law Center. “This case is really about whether pregnant women will continue to be asked to make the impossible choice between their jobs and their health.”

This article originally appeared on Fortune.com

TIME Parenting

Raising a Deaf Child Makes the World Sound Different

baby ear
Getty Images

When I found out my son couldn’t hear, I figured out that I wasn’t really listening, either

Just before my youngest son Alex turned two, we discovered that he had significant hearing loss that was likely to get worse. A few weeks later, I found myself in the gym at the school my two older boys attended. I was there for the regular Friday morning assembly. I’d been in that gym dozens of times for such events—dutifully clapping and cheering, chatting with other parents, and then moving on with my day.

On this morning, my routine was upended. The noise of the kids filing in echoed through the bleachers; the PA system squealed once or twice. When quiet kids took the microphone it was hard to hear them. All of that was normal, yet I hadn’t really noticed it before. Now, I was hearing the world differently, imagining it through the ears—and the hearing aids—of Alex, who might someday be a student here. Having a deaf child, I realized, was going to teach me to listen.

Once I started listening, I started to learn. Research came naturally—I am a journalist—and became my coping mechanism. Through books, conferences, and conversations with as many experts as possible, I began to understand the power of sound—how the speech of parents and caregivers and teachers shapes a child’s spoken language; and then, how a child’s own spoken language—the rhythm and the rate of it—helps that child learn to read. I also saw and heard more clearly the troublesome effects of sound’s alter ego, noise—the unwanted, unlovely cacophony of our industrial world, or the magnified, amplified effect of too many people talking, or music that’s too loud or intrusive.

What struck me most was that sound doesn’t matter any less for hearing children like my older boys. From the minute a child is born, every experience that child has is being etched into his or her brain. Sound, or its absence, is part of that experience. Neurons make connections with each other, or don’t; the auditory system develops or doesn’t, based on experience. Sound is essential for anyone learning to speak and to listen—and that includes every hearing child, as well as every deaf and hard of hearing child using hearing aids or cochlear implants, which send sound signals directly to the auditory nerve.

Before we figured out that Alex couldn’t hear, he was using every visual cue available—smiles and frowns, waving hands, pointing fingers—in order to make sense of his world. For a time, he compensated well enough to fool us into thinking he could hear, but he couldn’t keep up once his peers started talking.

Both the quantity and the quality of the words children hear in their first years affect language development. Over time, as kids have more experience listening, the auditory processing in their brains speeds up and becomes more efficient. The repetition, rhythm, and rhyme in nursery rhymes, poetry, music and even Dr. Seuss help children learn language by getting them to listen for patterns. That listening practice then forges the neural networks necessary for reading because an ability to make sense of what you hear and break speech into syllables and phonemes is the foundation of reading. How a child reacts to sound—meaning how efficiently his or her brain processes it—on the first day of kindergarten correlates to how many words per minute that child will read in fourth grade. It turns out that problems with processing sound are at the heart of the majority of reading problems. On the other hand, children who read well have built strong brain circuits connecting hearing, vision, and language.

It’s important to note that if a deaf child is going to grow up using sign language, he does not need sound in order to develop that language because his world is visual. Sign language, if it’s a first language, gets laid down in the brain in the same areas as spoken language does in those who learn to speak. Reading, however, is another question. Native signers must learn to read in what to them is a second language, and deaf students have historically struggled with reading in numbers far greater than their hearing peers.

When Alex did eventually attend school with his brothers, he was using a hearing aid in one ear and a cochlear implant in the other. It turned out that small strategies designed to improve the classroom environment for him benefitted everyone. After we taught Alex to politely ask his friends to speak up or repeat themselves, circle time was suddenly full of children using their manners to do the same because no one else could hear the shy kids who mostly whispered. None of the children in his first grade classroom heard the math assignment because the air conditioner sounded like a standing mixer. Swapping out the old equipment helped 20 kids, not one. Ditto for adding carpeting and curtains, and covering the metal legs of chairs. According to the Acoustical Society of America, noise levels in many classrooms are loud enough that those with normal hearing can hear only 75 percent of words read from a list.

Something else happened, too. Alex’s needs subtly shifted some of the group dynamics, encouraging a new level of attention. Hearing people don’t have to look at someone who’s talking to take in what they say, but deaf people do. Although Alex’s hearing equipment does allow him to hear without looking, he still benefits from visual cues, and in his classes we applied a lesson from American Sign Language about the need for eye contact. The lovely thing about looking at someone when that person is speaking is that instead of just appearing to pay attention, you probably actually are.

Paying attention matters on a deeper level. Children’s ability to pay attention matures over time just as their language does. And like language, selective attention—the kind kids need in the classroom—is affected by experience. Practice and you get better at it. Neuroscientists have shown that when children pay attention they learn. Focusing on something specific—one voice over another or your book instead of your friend—results in a bigger response in the brain measured in electrical activity even in children as young as three. That bigger response helps build networks between neurons and trains the brain to learn.

Alex is now in sixth grade at that same school. I can’t change the acoustics of the cafeteria, but in the classroom, we still begin every school year reminding his teachers to stop and listen. We encourage them to amplify sound by, for instance, remembering to face students instead of the board and to damp down noise by consistently keeping hallway doors shut and the like.

At home, the boys used to do homework at the kitchen table while I cooked dinner and occasionally stepped in to quiz them or offer suggestions, often without leaving whatever was simmering on the stove. I no longer do it that way. I turn off the radio and hush my older sons then I sit next to Alex (or whichever boy needs help) and give him my full attention. He learns the material better, and I learn more about him. I wish I had never done it any other way.

Lydia Denworth is the author of I Can Hear You Whisper: An Intimate Journey through the Science of Sound and Language. She is a blogger for Psychology Today and contributes to Scientific American Mind, Parents, and many other publications.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME

When One Twin is More Academically Gifted

My son tested into the gifted program at school, but my daughter didn't. Should I split them up?

Splitting up twins in school is never easy. But splitting up twins so that one goes on the advanced learning track and the other follows the regular program is one of the most agonizing decisions a parent can face. And no amount of Internet searches will give you helpful advice. The consensus: Figure it out, parents. That’s what you’re (not) paid for.

As you may have guessed, I have twins, a boy and a girl, and they’re in the first grade. I happen to be a fraternal twin myself, so I’m sensitive to always being compared to a sibling. My son is like his engineer father —completely committed to being a lovable nerd. The other day he found a book of math problems at Barnes and Noble and was so excited it was as if Santa arrived, handed him a gift, and then let him ride a reindeer. My daughter is like her freelance writer mother – studying is not really her thing. She reminds me of the prince in Monty Python and the Holy Grail who is to inherit a large amount of land and says, “But I don’t want any of that. I’d rather sing!” That’s my girl.

We were first introduced to our school’s Spectrum (advanced learning) program last year in Seattle, Washington at the beginning of kindergarten. The kids could be tested that year and would enter the program—or not—in first grade. I hadn’t really thought about whether to have my kids tested. Other parents apparently had. One asked: “Should we have our child practice at home with the same kind of mouse they’re going to use in the test?”

In the beginning, my husband and I laughed at the idea of advanced learning in the first grade. We joked about “Level Two Crayons” and “Expert Alphabet.” But then, as the day to decide about testing came closer, we started hearing from our son’s teacher about how gifted he was. What first grader wants to practice math and reading on his own during the evenings and weekends? My son. And then there was my daughter, who was right on track, but, like most kids her age, was happy to leave school stuff at school. “Let’s just get them both tested and see what happens,” I said.

As far as my kids knew, they were just going to school to talk about what they know and what they don’t. They were never told that the results of the test had any sort of consequences and weren’t the least bit curious. But when we got the results–my son tested into the advanced program and my daughter didn’t–I immediately became anxious. I wanted to let my son move into the advanced program because I knew he would love it and thrive. But I worried for my vibrant, passionate daughter who at the age of six doesn’t think she has any limits. How was I going to separate her from her brother because he could do something better?

As a child I never felt smart enough. Not because of my twin sister, but because of my mother, who was brilliant. She used her intelligence to get off of the Kentucky farm where she grew up and into a New York City law firm. She placed a lot of value on the power of education and what good grades could do. I felt perpetually unable to meet her high expectations. Now I had a daughter who, in kindergarten, was already resistant to doing her reading homework. I was terrified that placing her brother in a higher academic track would affect my daughter’s self-esteem.

I contacted Christina Baglivi Tingloff from the site Talk About Twins. She’s a mother of adult twins and author of six books, including Double Duty and Parenting School-Age Twins and Multiples. “It’s tough when twins differ in abilities,” she says, “and I’d say that it’s the biggest challenge of parenting multiples. [But] kids take their cues from their parents. If you make this a non-issue in your household, I think your kids will follow suit.”

My husband and I have no lofty goals for our kids besides wanting them to be able to pay their own bills, not hurt themselves or anyone else, and be happy. “So many parents of twins try to even the playing field,” says Tingloff. “In my opinion, that’s a bad course of action because…kids then never develop a strong emotional backbone. Your job as a parent is to help them deal with the disappointments in life.”

We ended up putting our son in the Spectrum program and our daughter in the regular learning track. In the years to come, I will make sure that they understand that advanced or regular doesn’t mean better or worse, it just means different. I want both of my children to do the best they can, whether that means taking advanced classes or singing the hell out of the school musical.

When my daughter wanders through the house making up her own songs and singing at the top of her voice, I support her…most of the time. “Really encourage your daughter in the arts,” says Tingloff. “Find her spotlight. At some point her brother will look at her accomplishments and say, ‘Wow, I can’t do that.'” While I had been worrying all this time about my daughter feeling outshined by her brother, I had never considered that he might also feel outperformed by her.

Despite all of my talk about how my daughter’s interests were every bit as valid as her brother’s, I had not been treating them the same. I saw the dance and drama as diversions and hobbies. I never gave those talents the respect that I gave to her brother’s academic interests.

Now that I am more aware of how I have been valuing their different strengths, I’ll be able to give my daughter’s interests the same amount of focus and praise as her brother’s. Hopefully, I can assure them that our only concern is their happiness. Then my husband and son can go do math problems together, and take things apart to see how they work, and my daughter and I will lay on the grass and find shapes in the clouds while we wonder about the world and sing.

The truth is, both my kids are gifted.

 

TIME Crime

Los Angeles Schools to Pay $139 Million in Child Abuse Scandal

Mark Berndt, right, a former South Los Angeles-area elementary school teacher at Miramonte Elemenary during his arraignment in Los Angeles Municipal Court Metropolitan Branch on Feb. 21, 2012.
Al Seib—AP Mark Berndt, right, a former South Los Angeles-area elementary school teacher at Miramonte Elemenary during his arraignment in Los Angeles Municipal Court Metropolitan Branch on Feb. 21, 2012.

The settlement affects about 150 children

The Los Angeles public school system said Friday that it will pay $139 million to settle legal claims from students subjected to lewd sexual acts committed by a third-grade teacher.

The settlement with the Los Angeles Unified School District comes in a grisly case that has been ongoing since an employee at a photo development store uncovered inappropriate pictures of the teacher, Mark Berndt, with students in 2010. Berndt, a former teacher at Miramonte Middle School, pleaded no contest to charges of child abuse in 2013 and was sentenced to 25 years in prison. Parents of about 150 students filed legal claims arguing that the school district was negligent in protecting children.

“Throughout this case, we have shared in the pain felt by these children, their families and the community,” school superintendent Ramon C. Cortines said in a statement. “Each day, we are responsible for the safety of more than 600,000 students. There is a sacred trust put in us to protect the children we serve.”

TIME Health Care

Don’t Count on Smart Baby Monitors To Prevent SIDS

New "smart" products to monitor babies shouldn't quell parents' fears about SIDS

Parents often rely on home monitoring products to protect babies from sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), an unexplained death that can happen to seemingly healthy babies, often during sleep. But they shouldn’t, argues a new editorial report in the journal The BMJ.

David King, author of the piece and clinical lecturer in pediatrics at the University of Sheffield, wrote that smart baby monitors and infant wearables provide a false sense of security to parents who use the products to keep their babies safe.

Take Owlet, King says, a U.S. company that raised $1.85 million in April 2014 for a smart sock that could measure babies’ vital signs. Other companies like Rest Devices and Sproutling have advertised similarly smart clothing for monitoring babies’ vitals. The problem, King argues, is that while the companies don’t outright claim that their products reduce the risk of SIDS, parents’ fears of the disorder are responsible for spurring the industry’s growth.

In August, Sproutling co-founder and CEO Chris Bruce told TIME the product was developed out of his own need to incessantly check on his baby to make sure she was still breathing. “I’d get nervous,” he said. “I tried to listen at the door and I didn’t want to wake her up…So I sneak in, I try and listen if she’s breathing, and I end up putting my hand on her and waking her up.”

King writes that devices can be helpful in some circumstances. “Home monitoring may be justified in some situations, such as for preterm infants or infants who need oxygen,” he says. “But in these cases parents and other caregivers should be trained in observation techniques, operation of the monitor, and infant cardiopulmonary resuscitation.” These monitoring products do not require premarket approval by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and King argues that despite the fact that the companies disclose that they are not medical devices, there’s not enough information ensuring parents really know that. He argues that the advertising for these products is confusing.

In the report, King writes:

Owlet states on its website that the device “alerts you if something appears wrong with your baby’s heart rate or the amount of oxygen in his/her body.” Rest Devices claims that its product allows parents to see their “baby’s breathing patterns, in real-time.” Sproutling says that it will let you know “if your baby is sleeping soundly or if something is wrong.” No published data support any of these claims, and because the devices are being sold as consumer rather than medical devices such data are not required. Ideally, manufacturers would be required to undertake observational studies or randomized trials to support any claims they make concerning the utility and efficacy of wearable devices in infants—even if they are categorized as consumer devices.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has already said that home cardiorespiratory monitors shouldn’t be used to reduce SIDS risk.

In response to King’s report, the founder of Owlet Kurt Workman says in a statement sent to TIME: “I have hundreds of comments from Owlet testers and none of them focus on SIDS. They just want to know if something is wrong. That’s what pulse oximetry does in hospitals and in homes worldwide. Parents simply want something that can monitor their child pro-actively (something that video and sound can’t do). As parents we’re tired of monitors that only serve a purpose when we’re awake. We want something that can let us rest easier. That’s the purpose of Owlet and for many parents it is worth the expense.”

Rest Devices, the company behind the Mimo Smart Baby Monitor, also responded to TIME:

Mimo was never designed to be a medical device. It’s worth noting that our founding team did clinically validate our sensors when doing early-stage development of adult respiratory diagnostic devices, and we continued to use that knowledge base once we transitioned to baby and family products. We do communicate to our customers in several different forms that our product is a baby monitor, not a medical device. It’s on our website, it’s on our packaging, it’s in our support tools—including the setup booklet that helps a parent get up and running.

Owlet says nearly 3,000 people have pre-ordered their product and that their technology is more advanced than the research King mentions in his piece. “The bigger point is that technology has progressed and we can now fit a pulse oximeter, accelerometer and even temperature sensors comfortably on a baby’s foot without any cords,” says Workman, adding that the company is creating a product that they will submit to the FDA as a medical device to take home from the neonatal intensive care unit.

“Some professionals have the notion that the less parents know the better, we feel the opposite,” he says. “We also feel that they have the right to know more about their child.”

King says medical professionals should not recommended the products to ease parents’ fears, but should instead recommend methods long known to work, like positioning a child on its back to sleep. But in our new age of tracking ourselves, why not keep tabs on the vitals of our dependent kin? Smart monitoring devices won’t hurt as an extra way for parents to track their children—as long as they’re well aware that doing so won’t alert them to SIDS in their babies.

Sproutling did not respond to requests for comment at publication.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: November 19

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. Teach data literacy in elementary school.

By Mohana Ravindranath in the Washington Post

2. A new app lets kids explore the life and living conditions of other children around the world.

By Laura Bliss in CityLab

3. Politics inside Yemen — once a reliable U.S. ally and success story in the war on terror — has pushed the nation out of our influence.

By Adam Baron in Defense One

4. When it comes to science and health news, radio might save journalism.

By Anna Clark in Columbia Journalism Review

5. Rooftop solar power could beat the price of coal in two years — if utilities don’t shut it down.

By Lucas Mearian in ComputerWorld

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME

An Infant’s Brain Maps Language From Birth, Study Says

Rear view of baby girl
Vladimir Godnik—Getty Images

The infant's brain retains language that it hears at birth and recognizes it years later, even if the child no longer speaks that language.

A new study study reveals that an infant’s brain may remember a language, even if the child has no idea how to speak a word of it.

The finding comes from a new study performed by a team of researchers from McGill University’s Department of Psychology and Montreal’s Neurological Institute who are working to understand how the brain learns language.

As it turns out, the language that an infant hears starting at birth creates neural patterns that the unconscious brain retains years later, even if the child completely stops using the language. The study offers the first neural evidence that traces of so-called “lost” languages remain in the brain.

Because these lost languages commonly occur within the context of international adoptions—when a child is born where one language is spoken and then reared in another country with another language—the researchers recruited test subjects from the international adoption community in Montreal. They studied 48 girls between the ages of nine and 17 years old. One group was born and raised speaking only French. The second group was bilingual, speaking French and Chinese fluently. And the third was Chinese-speaking children who were adopted as infants and later became French speakers, but discontinued exposure to Chinese after the first few years of life. They had no conscious recollection of the Chinese language. “They were essentially monolingual French at this point,” explained Dr. Denise Klein, one of the researchers, in an interview with TIME. “But they had been exposed to the Chinese language during the first year or two of their life.”

The three groups were asked to perform a Chinese tonal task–“It’s simply differentiating a tone,” said Klein. “Everybody can do it equally.” Scans were taken of their brains while they performed the task and the researchers studied the images. The results of the study, published in the November 17 edition of the scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), showed that the brain activation pattern of the adopted Chinese who “lost” or completely discontinued using the language, matched the brain activation patterns for those who continued speaking Chinese since birth—and was completely different from the group of monolingual French speakers.

The researchers interpret this to believe that the neural pathways for the Chinese language could only have been acquired during the first months of life. In layman’s terms, this means that the infant brain developed Chinese language patterns at birth and never forgot them, even though the child no longer speaks or understands the language.

“We looked at language that was abruptly cut off, so we could see what happens developmentally in that early period,” said Klein. “The sound of languages are acquired relatively early in life, usually within the first year. We’ve learned through a lot of seminal work that is out there that children start out as global citizens who turn their heads equally to all sounds and only later start to edit and become experts in the languages that they’re regularly exposed to.” The question for the researchers was whether the brains of the Chinese-born children who no longer spoke their native language would react like a French speaker or like a bilingual group.

To see what neural pathways might still exist in a brain and to see what a brain might remember of the mother tongue, the researchers used Chinese language tones, which infants in China would have been exposed to before coming to live in French-speaking Montreal. “If you have never been exposed to Chinese, you would just process the tones as ‘sounds,'” said Klein. However, if someone had been previously exposed to Chinese, like the bilingual Chinese-French speakers, they would process the tone linguistically, using neural pathways in the language-processing hemisphere of their brain, not just the sound-processing ones. Even though they could have completed the task without activating the language hemisphere of their brain, their brains simply couldn’t suppress the fact that the sound was a language that they recognized. Even though they did not speak or understand the language, their brains still processed it as such.

The results were that the brain patterns of the Chinese-born children who had “lost” their native tongue looked like the brains of the bilingual group, and almost nothing like the monolingual French group. This was true, even though the children didn’t actually speak any Chinese. “These templates are maintained in the brain, even though they no longer have any knowledge of Chinese,” said Klein, who was not surprised that these elements remained in the brain.

As with most scientific research, this finding opens the door to even more questions, particularly as to whether children exposed to a language early on in life, even if they don’t use the language, will have an easier time learning that language later in life. Don’t go rushing to Baby Einstein quite yet, though. “We haven’t tested whether children who are exposed to language early, re-learn the language more easily later,” said Dr. Klein, “But it is what we predict.”

What the study does suggest though is the importance of this early phase of language exposure. “What the study points out is how quite surprisingly early this all takes place,” said Klein. “There has been a lot of debate about what the optimal period for the development of language and lots of people argued for around the ages of 4 or 5 as one period, then around age 7 as another and then around adolescence as another critical period. This really highlights the importance of the first year from a neural perspective.”

“Everything about language processing follows on the early ability to do these phonological discriminations,” said Klein. “You become better readers if you do these things.”

While Klein isn’t an expert in the field of language acquisition, she does surmise that the more languages you are exposed to the better for neural pathway development, but she hasn’t fully tested that hypothesis. She mentioned other studies that show that early exposure to multiple languages can lead to more lingual “flexibility” down the road. Before you clean out Berlitz and build a Thai-Kurdish-German-Mandarin language playlist for your infant, Klein doesn’t recommend loading kids up with “thousands of languages.” She explains: “I don’t think bombarding somebody with multiple languages necessarily improves or changes anything.” Klein thought ensuring future lingual flexibility could come from exposure to just two or three languages at an early age.

To that end, Klein does think it’s important to develop these neural templates early in life, which she considers similar to wiring a room—put in the plugs, ports and outlets first and if you need to add a light later, you won’t have to start from scratch. Luckily there are no products required to develop a language template in the brain: simply talking to your baby in your native tongue is enough to develop those all-important neural pathways. If you want to invest in Baby Berlitz, well, the studies aren’t in yet, but it can’t hurt.

TIME viral

Watch Neil deGrasse Tyson Give an Adorable 6-Year-Old Excellent Life Advice

And then he proceeds to roll on the ground

The great and powerful Neil deGrasse Tyson has some excellent life advice: When the world gives you puddles, jump in them.

When the famed astrophysicist came to College of the Holy Cross in Massachusetts last week, an adorable 6-year-old girl in an Einstein T-shirt asked what first graders can do to “help the world.”

And his answer is all about exploration. Jumping in puddles, banging on pots and pans — even if your mom and dad aren’t always gung ho about the whole thing.

“Tell your parents Doctor Neil deGrasse Tyson said you should jump in the puddle,” he said before doing launching into a roll on the gymnasium floor.

“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious,” he said, reading the Einstein quote off the girl’s shirt. “It is the source of all true art and science.”

(h/t: Nerdist)

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