I think most parents want to raise a smart child. So, the question is how do we as parents do this most effectively? It’s important to first understand a little about brain development.
A child’s early years are incredibly important for brain development. The reason for this is that a child’s brain goes through an enormous amount of change during the first three years of life. For instance, our brains’ reach 80% of its adult volume by the age of 3. Also, connections between neurons (brain cells) form at a “faster rate during these years than at any other time.”
However, during this time, the brain creates many more connections between nerve cells than it needs. As children grow and develop, there is a “pruning process” where the connections between cells that aren’t used disappear. This means that the environment or experiences help construct the brain (although our genes provide the basic blueprint or wiring of our brain). If a child colors a lot, the areas of the brain responsible for this action develop and strengthen.
Thus, again, the brain develops rapidly during the first few years of life. While it’s important to provide appropriate stimulation to help your child’s brain develop, don’t get too hung up on it or too pushy about it. The most important aspect of “brain-building” is that you provide a calm, nurturing, and loving home for your child. There are many ways to do this, so I will provide recommendations on activities you can do with your child that help boost brain development.
A secure attachment helps build emotional regulation and security (by strengthening those areas of the brain). In terms of how to build an attachment, it’s important to respond to your child’s cues. For instance, if your baby is crying, pick them up, cuddle them, and try to figure out what your child needs (such as food or just comfort). Children who are securely attached will invest more of their time exploring their environment and learning! Contrary to this, anxiously attached children are less likely to explore and will stay by the mother.
Repeating sounds or activities help strengthen connections between brain cells. For example, if you consistently say “Mamma” to your little one, eventually the sound and meaning of this word will be ” built into” the brain.
In doing this, it helps your child develop motor skills (such as grasping) and hand-eye coordination.
This is one thing I did with my daughter. We’d go outside and I’d name things for her. We’d also touch objects.
No matter the age of your child, talk to them. Tell them what you are doing. This helps develop their language skills, but it also helps link language (such as words) with some sensory input. For example, if you say, “We are going to the car,” eventually your child will associate the word “car” with the actual car.
Toys that have sound and visual input are great, but it’s even better for your child if they can interact with it. This is all great for enhancing cognitive abilities! For example, let your little one bang pots and pans together. This has visual input, sound, and an interactive component. When your child bangs two pans together, your little one learns cause and effect (If I bang them together, it makes a cool sound!). Here are some recommended toys that provide visual input, sound, and have an interactive component:
Our brain’s love novelty, but kids are “more likely to investigate new challenges if they are surrounded by familiar things” (Healy, 2004). Thus, be careful about overloading your child with too many toys. Once they become familiar with 1-2 toys, introduce a new one.
The brain needs time to organize itself and consolidate learning, so it does need rest for that. It’s just like how we as adults need time to rest our brains after we’ve been studying, so our brains can consolidate the information and retain it in our memories. As parents, it’s important then that we notice signs of being over-tired such as crankiness.
This doesn’t allow your child the ability to explore objects or movements as much, so it’s important to keep this time to a minimum.
Sensory play involves the senses such as touch and sight. For example, when a child plays with play dough, this involves the sense of touch and sight. Sensory stimulation is important for brain development, as it strengthens the synapses (connections between neurons or brain cells) in the areas of the brain responsible for that particular sense. If you expose your child to various sensory experiences, this allows your child’s brain to develop “proper sensory capabilities.”
Sensory bins are one way to engage your child in this type of play. For ideas on what to fill your sensory bin with, check out this website: Sensory Bin Fillers
For instance, water beads are one sensory bin filler that is used often. You can find some here:
You can also engage your child in sensory play with items you have in your home. For example, you can use play-dough or flour and let your child have at it!
If you pay attention to what interests your baby, you can then nurture that interest. My little one has always loved playing with balls, so we’d spend a lot of time rolling one back and forth. Eventually, we would throw and kick a ball.
You, as the parent, are the best learning tool at this time in your child’s life. Just be careful not too put too much pressure on yourself or the baby to learn and develop. It will come with time!
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Baby’s Brain Begins Now: Conception to Age 3. Retrieved from http://www.urbanchildinstitute.org/why-0-3/baby-and-brain
Benefits of sensory play to brain development. Retrieved from https://www.parentingforbrain.com/sensory-activities-importance-sensory-play/.
Healy, J. (2004). Your child’s growing mind: Brain development and learning from birth to adolescence. Broadway Books: New York.Follow me on social media: