The theory of the super baby first emerged way back in the Sixties. Poor baby might be more appropriate.

Babies barely able to sit up were pestered with flash cards on the basis that, if they saw the same word often enough, they would recognise it and - bingo! - they would be reading.

No matter that they might not have sufficient vocabulary for this to be of any obvious use.

The creation of baby geniuses was the objective and, if your baby could parrot the word "daddy"

from a card, thats what you had.

No one wants to go back to that but on the other hand, one sometimes suspects babies cry from frustration and boredom.

And that is not surprising as they are effectively little learning machines, capable of learning more and at a faster rate than adults can even contemplate: From total helplessness at birth to walking, talking, thinking person in only two years.

The intriguing question is: How do we harness that enormous learning potential in a way that also increases a babys quality of life?

Can the principle of learning through play apply to babies as young as six months?

The answer is yes and it is applied in some of the best day nurseries in the county, where staff devise activities that are fun, absorbing, challenging and baby-focused.

There is even a technical term for it: Heuristic play or learning through exploration.

It is stimulating and fun and often enjoyably messy.

Lets start with painting.

Of course, babies cannot hold a paintbrush but they can crawl through paint spread on a paper-lined floor, which is genuinely liberating, hugely enjoyable and an interesting experiment in cause and effect.

Then there is the soft play area, where babies and toddlers hurl themselves about with no risk of injury, crawl though soft, brightly coloured tunnels and learn to throw foam balls.

What better way to learn about space and colour or to develop language: "More -


Communication though, is more than language.

It also means developing the social skills that enable human beings to co-exist:

Give and take.

And this takes us to treasure baskets, which are filled with a range of ordinary objects that are safe for babies to handle and put in their mouth such as large cotton reels, woolly balls, maybe a lemon, a wooden spoon, a bath sponge and so on.

The collection should vary in look, texture, shape and smell so babies can explore in any way they wish.

Then, the babies are settled down round the treasure basket and left to develop a social group, while the adults observe.

The extraordinary thing that they do. They pass each other toys, they laugh, they share.

In other words, by playing together for short periods without adult intervention, they start to understand what some less-privileged adults never quite grasp: That other babies (and people) have feelings and needs too.

Meanwhile, the adults observe but do not intervene.

Boredom? Never.