Effects of the Firstart Method of Prenatal Stimulation on Psychomotor Development: The First Six Months
This paper explores the effectiveness of the Firstart prenatal stimulation method applied to a sample of maternity patients at University Hospital "La Fe" in Valencia, with 71 women in the control group and 101 in the experimental group. Both groups were enrolled in the birth preparation course offered at the hospital. In addition, future mothers in the experimental group wore a waistband equipped with small speakers connected to a tape recorder which played a series of eight tapes of violin sounds. Mothers exposed the unborn babies to an average of 70 hours of music from about 28 weeks to the end of pregnancy. After birth the "Observational Scale of Development" originated by F. Secadas was used by mothers to chart the onset of behaviors from 0 to 6 months. On 22 items of the scale, behaviors of the experimental group babies were significantly advanced compared to those of the control group. Findings reveal the superiority of prenatally stimulated children in gross and fine motor activities, in linguistic development, in some aspects of somato-sensory coordination, and in certain cognitive behaviors.
ABOUT THIS PAPER: The story behind this paper begins with a pregnant couple, Rosa Plaza and Manuel Alanso, two musicians who were playing violin and piano many hours a day and attending concerts. Rosa had been influenced by a book, Rachel Cohen's In Defense of Early Education, containing the ideas (among others) of the pioneer Masare Ibuka, who had long been advocating early stimulation as a way of improving the intelligence of Japanese children. Rosa was determined to provide an environment of loving attention both before and after birth. Soon after birth it became apparent that their boy, Diego Alonso Plaza had extraordinary musical gifts. In six months he was singing scales and duplicating other musical sounds heard in utero. At age three, with excellent space-time relations, hearing, manual dexterity, and musical sense, the child gave his first recital for the National Radio of Spain and the Royal theater of Madrid. People were calling him the "Mozart of Spain." All this led the Plazas to create the Firstart program of prenatal stimulation, the program tested in the following research.
Although the program encouraged parents to sing and talk to their unborn babies, the principle curriculum consisted of taped presentations of violin sounds, from simple to more complex forms, for up to 90 minutes a day. Mothers in this study exposed their babies to sounds from a small tape recorder worn in a belt around the abdomen for an average of 70 hours during pregnancy, beginning at about 28 weeks g.a. Experimental testing of the infants at six months of age was made possible by a team from the Department of Developmental Psychology at the University of Valencia. The team, led by Professor M. Josefa Lafuente, will be testing the babies at intervals. This was the first round of tests of control and experimental subjects at six months of age.
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Reprinted from: Pre- and Perinatal Psychology Journal Vol. 11 (1997) No. 3, 151-162.
David B. Chamberlain served as Action Editor for this article.
Address correspondence to: Prof. Josefa Lafuente
The Plazas are currently in Budapest where Diego attends the Franz Liszt Academy of Music. Rosa Plaza, 2032 Budakeszi, Rozsa u.26, Hungary.
APPENDIX I. Observational Scale of Development from 0 to 6 Months, adapted from that of F. Secadas (1988, 1992)
1. Automatically picks objects that brush the palm of the hand (like other person's finger, a pencil ...).
2. If held upright by the armpits over a hard surface moves the legs like walking.
3. Hints defensive reactions when facing intense stimulation (like closing the eyes or turning theface when we approach a very bright light).
4. Reacts at the sound of a bell or a rattle.
5. When touched on the cheek, turns the head to that side.
6. Follows with the eyes a moving bright-colored object.
7. Turns the head at a noise.
8. Emits guttural sounds (gggg), like if clearing the throat or growling.
9. Brings the hand to the mouth and sucks it.
10. Raises the chin when lying face down.
11. Stares at mother's face when sucking or feeding from the bottle.
12. Tears appear when crying.
13. Closes eyes when hands are clapped near face.
14. Looks at watching or talking face.
15. Emits vowel sounds ("a", "u", "o").
16. Rests on the forearms when lying face down, and raises chin and chest.
17. Answers with smile to other smiling person.
18. Smiles when we talk at him.
19. Pulls hair or touches face of person holding him in arms.
20. Smiles when shaking rattle.
21. Follows the mother across the room with the eyes.
22. Responds with sounds when human voice is heard.
23. Touches and hits objects hanging at his reach.
24. Explores toys by sucking them.
25. Stops crying when somebody comes near.
26. Uncovers by shaking legs strongly.
27. Turns head toward person talking to him.
28. Shows the tip of the tongue, imitating the mother.
29. Takes one hand with the other and looks at them.
30. Rubs and hits objects against hard surfaces.
31. When lying face up, tries to get hold of a ring within his reach.
32. When held seated the head is well supported, and doesn't fall forward or to the sides anymore.
33. Lying on the back, can turn the head both ways.
34. Lying on the back, can turn the body towards one side, then returns to the first position.
35. If held upright by the armpits over a hard surface, folds legs and doesn't move them anymore like walking.
36. Upsets in the presence of unknown persons.
37. Eyes converge to follow an object when moved towards his face.
38. Enjoys trying to articulate syllables.
39. Pushes objects with the palm of the hand.
40. Moves to take a handkerchief away from the face.
41. Can move by crawling, that is, dragging on the stomach.
42. Can stay seated upright a few instants, if has something to lean on.
43. Smiles and vocalization at seeing his image in a mirror.
44. Imitates simple actions, e.g., clapping hands or agitating arms.
45. No longer grasps automatically at objects brushing the palm of his hand, but selects objects he wants to take that are within his reach, and does it using the thumb together with the other fingers.
46. Takes a handkerchief away from his face.
47. Sitting upright with support, turning head from side to side.
48. Reacts with laugh to tickling.
49. Hits table with spoon, imitating other persons.
50. Starts picking objects that are not within reach.
51. Differentiates between known and unknown persons, with different behaviors towards the former and the latter (i.e., smiles more to known persons, they comfort him easier . . .).
52. Recognizes preliminaries to go out for a walk.
53. Follows with the sight the fall of objects.
54. Changes objects from one hand to the other.
55. Enjoys throwing everything to the floor.
56. Shakes objects if they make noise, like the rattle.
57. Can stay seated upright a few instants without leaning.
58. If held upright by the armpits over a hard surface, jumps up and down.
59. Stretches out the hand towards the mirror in front of him to touch his image.
60. Pushes aside an obstacle to reach an object he has seen being hidden.
61. Pulls at a tablecloth to bring something on the cloth within reach.
62. Hits objects such as a drum, xylophone or two spoons to hear the resulting sound.
63. Takes two objects, one in each hand.
64. If shown rattling keys, picks them up.
65. Holds feeding bottle with both hands.
66. Starts going on all fours or sliding on the backside.
67. Takes part in games like covering the face with the hands, then uncovering it saying "cu-cu".
68. Looks for an object that has been covered beneath a pillow or cloth.
69. Chews a biscuit.
70. Picks rather small objects, like a necklace's bead or a crumb of bread, using the thumb and theforefmger as a pincer.
71. Learns to clap hands.
72. Inserts the finger into slots and holes.
73. Stands upright leaning on the railing of the crib or the playpen.
74. Opens and closes the mouth, imitating persons.
75. Learns to kiss.
76. Links syllables ("ba-ba-ba", "da-da-da").
77. Understands a prohibition (No!) and stops when hearing it.
78. Imitates words ("mama", "papa" . . .).
79. Imitates sounds (i.e., cracking the tongue, "prrr").
80. Drinks from glass or cup if helped to hold it.
81. Can stay seated for 10-15 minutes without leaning.
82. Can seat himself after crawling.
83. Cries if mother leaves.
84. Hums alone.
85. Looks attentively at the drawings.