These easy, everyday moves can help your baby — and later your toddler — further develop language, attention, and reasoning skills.
At birth, your baby’s brain contains 100 billion neurons (as many as there are stars in the Milky Way!). During his first years, he will grow trillions of brain-cell connections, called neural synapses. Pretty impressive, right?
But here’s the thing: The rule for brain wiring is to use it or lose it. Synapses that are not “wired together” through stimulation are pruned and lost during a child’s school years. Although an infant’s brain does have some neurological hard-wiring, such as the ability to learn any language, it is more pliable and more vulnerable than a grown-up’s brain. And, amazingly, a toddler’s brain has twice as many neural connections as an adult’s.
When you provide loving, language-enriched experiences for your baby, you are giving his brain’s neural connections and pathways more opportunities to become wired together. In turn, he will acquire rich language, reasoning, and planning skills. These easy tips, stimulating books and supervised, interactive activities will help make sure your young child’s brain is primed for years of learning ahead.
1. Give your baby a good start before birth. Stay healthy while you are pregnant, and be aware that certain drugs can be destructive to your baby’s brain in utero. Many children who were drug-abused in the womb struggle with severe learning problems and suddenly act with unprovoked aggressive behaviors. Studies have also revealed that cigarette smoking during pregnancy is linked with lower fourth-grade reading scores.
2. Turn up the baby talk. Respond to infant coos with delighted vocalizations, and slowly draw out your syllables in a high-pitched voice as you exclaim phrases like “pretty baby.” This way of speaking is called parentese, and the exaggerated facial expressions and drawn-out vowels help your child absorb all the sounds of our language. Remember: The areas of the brain responsible for understanding speech and producing language need your rich input.
Book Pick: Baby Shark This silly sing-along story based on a well-loved song can easily be read in parentese. Your baby will absorb the many sounds of the English language as you talk about a baby shark, mama shark, and grandpa shark, and sing the melodic “Doo doo doo!” verses in between.
3. Play games that involve hands. Activities like patty-cake, peekaboo, this little piggy, or even puppets engage your baby and capture her attention. Using your hands shows young children how we physically interact with our world — plus, hands-on activities are simply more fun for both of you!
Toy Pick: Narwhal & Jelly Finger Puppet Pair Make playtime hands-on with these fun-sized, dynamic duo of puppets, which spark the imagination of your child while providing hilarious, interactive play.
4. Be attentive. When your young child points, be sure to follow with your gaze and remark on items or events of interest to her. This “joint attention” confirms how important her interests and observations are to you.
Toy Pick: Hand Pointers Set of 3 For little learners ages 3 and up, these hand pointers make it even easier for you and your child to interact about topics of interest—and they’re also great for imaginative play, like pretend school!