Brains are built over time, but the primary foundations are constructed very early in life. While many factors influence brain development, your early interactions have the most impact – and they include talking, reading, and singing.
SLEEPING:Toddlers need lots of rest (approximately 12 to 14 hours per day). Research shows that lack of sleep is associated with medical problems like allergies, ear infections, and hearing troubles, and also with psychiatric and social issues like aggression, anxiety, and depression.
SINGING:Singing and listening to a variety of music helps build music-related pathways in the brain. Music can have a positive affect on a child’s mood and strengthen certain thinking skills.
PLAYING: When children play, they develop a wide variety of skills, including gross motor skills (big movements of the arms, legs, and trunk), fine motor skills (small movements of the hands, fingers, mouth, and tongue), hand-eye coordination, visual tracking (following objects with both eyes), and cognitive skills like creative thinking, reasoning, problem solving, and listening.
HUGGING: Early interactions shape the wiring in the brain and establish patterns for how the child will develop relationships as she grows older.
EATING: Children need a balance of nutrients from food for healthy brain growth and development. Under-nourished children grow more slowly and have less energy to learn and explore.
CRAWLING & WALKING: Whether it’s crawling, walking, running, or jumping, this type of activity requires a child’s balance, strength, control, and coordination, also known as gross motor skills.
READING: It’s never too early to start reading to your baby. When kids are read to, their brains build the neural connections that enable them to learn vocabulary. When adults and children read a favorite book again and again, connections in the child’s brain become stronger and more complex.
CRYING: Babies cry to communicate and express emotion. It’s how they tell you they’re hungry, hurt, afraid, sleepy, and more. The part of the brain that regulates emotion is shaped by a child’s early experiences. Early nurturing from adults is important for a child to learn empathy, happiness, hopefulness, and resiliency.
DRAWING: Coloring is an example of a child’s development of fine motor skills. Fine motor skills are small movements that use the hands, fingers, toes, wrists, and other small muscles.
TALKING: A child’s most intensive period for absorbing speech and language skills is during her first three years of life. These skills develop best in a world that is rich with sounds, sights, and consistent exposure to speech.
TOUCHING, SEEING, HEARING, SMELLING, & TASTING: A child absorbs the world through her senses. Her experiences from touching a tree’s bark, hearing the sound of her father’s voice, smelling the scent of her mother’s skin, and tasting her first bite of food all help build connections that guide brain development.
New parents are often flooded with information about child-rearing, and it can become overwhelming to try and keep the facts straight. Luckily, when it comes to your baby’s brain development, the steps are easy to remember – and free. All it takes is a little “brain exercise” – via talking, reading and singing. Do these simple activities early and often to help build connections in the brain that will impact your child’s life forever.
We’ve debunked five common myths to help get your baby on the right path for maximum brain development.
"My baby is only eight weeks old. I don’t need to talk to her, because she can’t talk back. I feel silly having a one-sided conversation, anyway. I’ll wait until she at least starts babbling."
Even though your tiny tot can’t respond to you verbally just yet, she’s listening to every word you say – and her brain is rapidly growing. Connections within the brain, also called synapses, ultimately shape how your child learns, thinks and grows – and they start forming at birth. So go ahead – start chatting about your day, count those tiny toes, read a book or recite the alphabet. Your baby is doing more than listening; she’s counting on you to help expand her already curious mind.
"Playing is just for kids."
When it comes to learning and stimulation, adults need to be part of the fun. When you set your little one down on a blanket or mat for tummy time, get down to his or her level and “play” together, one-on-one, face-to-face, by singing songs and pointing out shapes and colors of objects in the room. Young babies are fascinated by faces and are actually watching you pronounce words through your mouth movements, preparing them for speech. For toddlers, engage in questions and answers (where is the teddy bear’s nose? Where are his ears? Where is your nose; where are your ears?) to help them learn as they play.
"Brain development is a genetic thing. I have no control over it."
It’s those daily experiences that will determine how your baby’s brain cells will form and connect to one another. Lacking simple yet important early experiences –things like being spoken to, read to, and sung to early and often – will most certainly play a role in the development of connections in your child’s brain. In fact, studies have shown that babies who experience more of these types of interactions ultimately possess larger vocabularies, do better in school, are more likely to graduate high school and even have a more financially successful future. The impact is huge, and the power lies in your hands – not in their genes.
"Real learning starts when my child begins preschool."
Even though preschool and kindergarten are traditionally seen as the start of a child’s “formal” education, you are his or her first – and most important – teacher. But luckily, you don’t need a lesson plan – every game of peek-a-boo, as simple as it sounds, can be a learning moment. Books are one of the most effective tools, even from infancy. And studies have shown that encouraging a child’s comments and responses during story time can actually accelerate a two-year-old’s language development by up to nine months.
"If you want a smart baby, you need to buy brainy toys, videos, flash cards and Mozart CDs."
There’s no evidence that pricy, “educational” toys make a difference in brain development – in fact, they can often overstimulate, which won’t make your child any smarter. While it’s great to have a variety of interesting, colorful playthings at home, the very best “toys” for your baby are you – and your voice. Talking, reading and singing to your baby are the most impactful activities you can do with your child, and they don’t cost a thing – or take up any space in the toy box. Put your baby in a sling or stroller and take a walk, pointing out squirrels or buses and trucks along the way. Sort laundry colors and make shapes out of folding towels. Clang kitchen utensils together to make “music” and sing a song as you set the table for dinner. The opportunities are easy… and endless.
We get it. You might feel a bit silly talking to a tiny newborn who can’t talk back. But these early conversations are more valuable than you may realize. Talking – about anything, really – helps build your baby’s brain right from the start. And the more you talk and engage with your baby, the easier it’ll become. Before you know it, you’ll begin to see your baby respond!
What You’ll Need:
Let’s get talking!
What are you doing right now? Tell your baby about it. For example, “We’re going to have lunch soon. Let’s set the table. Are you hungry?”
What will you do later today? “We’re going to grandma’s house for a visit. Let’s pack your diaper bag. Do we have enough wipes? Let’s check together.”
Name objects around you. “Look, here is your favorite bear. Watch me give him a hug. Would you like to hug him, too?” “Let’s count your socks. One, two, three, four, five, six! That’s a lot of socks!”
Is your baby beginning to babble? Listen to her efforts, and then respond to help demonstrate the pattern of conversation! If baby doesn’t seem interested at the moment, or is fussy, don’t despair – just try again a little later.
Dancing with a toddler in your arms is an excellent way to get some exercise, build a stronger bond between the two of you, and teach your child about rhythm and music, as you dip and sway together. So get swinging to that beat!
What You’ll Need:
Upbeat music - nursery rhymes, toddler songs, instrumental
Hold your child securely in your arms and start singing or playing the music. Exaggerate your dance moves with side-to-side sways and some surprising dips and turns. When the song or music ends, freeze in your position. Start dancing when the music starts again.
A preschooler's brain thrives on imagination - and that's what makes this activity so much fun. By hiding an object in a bag or sock, kids need to think creatively when figuring out what's inside!
What You’ll Need:
Cloth or soft plastic bag
Items such as:
Small child-friendly kitchen items (like a spoon or potato masher)
Tell your child to look away and place an item in the sock or bag. Let your child touch and feel the sock or bag, and guess the object inside. Reverse roles and try to figure out what your child hides inside for you!