Baby brains develop at a rapid rate. Infants’ neurological wiring holds a world of opportunities. Key development begins at an incredibly early age and stimulating your child’s mind could end up boosting their brainpower and shaping his or her intelligence for years to come. Here are 10 ways to help grow your baby’s intellect:
1. Grow a healthy brain before your baby’s born.
Staying as healthy as possible during pregnancy will give your baby-to-be the best shot at a healthy mind. Maintain a well-balanced diet, exercise, get plenty of sleep and schedule regular doctor appointments. Avoid medications that are known to harm fetal development because often, the brain is the first body part harmed.
2. Pay attention to your little one.
Children have a much higher chance of learning when their curiosity and observations are rewarded. Follow their gaze and comment on what they’re looking at, respond to pointing and describe what the two of you are checking out.
3. Converse with your baby.
Talk to your baby, even if he or she isn’t talking back just yet. Respond to baby talk and describe whatever you’re doing, whether it’s talking about making dinner or changing a diaper. This is how babies learn vocabulary and basic sentence structure.
4. Read to your little one.
Sparking an early interest in books and literature is essential to teaching language. Pick out books with large, colorful illustrations and simple story lines.
5. If your toddler is old enough to play, he or she is old enough to help clean up.
Enforcing cleanup early on introduces important concepts like responsibility and the idea of consequence. But remember, your toddler doesn’t know that cleaning up is a chore yet so make it fun! Sing a cleanup song while you work. Toddlers are eager to help and want to please so make a game out of cleaning up and always remember to thank your little helper.
6. Don’t shy away from a mess.
Scooping mud, splashing water and digging in sand is how little ones explore basic physics. Even though these messy ideas may seem like your worst nightmare, they’re essential for spiking your child’s curiosity and learning. Avoid disaster by making messy play extra structured and keep it outside. Then, when it’s cleanup time, head to the bathtub where your toddler can explore even more textures like slimy soap and a squishy sponge.
7. Allow for crawl space.
Many parents have a hard time letting their newly crawling babies run loose, but this is an important part of their development. Set up a safe, baby-proofed area, free of little objects and blocked off from stairs and sharp corners. Then let your baby run (or crawl) wild. This is how they can investigate the world around them and start to familiarize themselves with day-to-day objects.
8. Sing songs.
Songs are a fun way to learn. Children’s songs teach everything from the alphabet to animals to shapes and colors. They’re also a great way to pass times that may otherwise be boring for a little one. So next time you’re stuck in traffic, bust out your new secret weapon: the Itsy Bitsy Spider.
9. Use every opportunity to learn.
Sometimes parents forget that necessities, like meals or bath time, can be great learning opportunities to explore daily activities. So when you sit down to feed your baby, describe what he or she is eating. Is it fruit, a vegetable or something else? What’s it called? What color is it? Babies will begin to develop favorite tastes and learn to request them by name.
10. Remain positive whenever possible.
No matter how crabby, sleep-deprived and frustrated you get, try your hardest to remain positive. State rules clearly and, by all means, punish if you need to, but always try to reward good behavior. Often times, rewarding the good stuff will save you from having to punish the bad stuff later on.
-“20 Ways to Boost Your Baby’s Brain Power.” Scholastic.
-Photo courtesy of Stuart Miles/freedigitalphotos.net
1. Solitary play
Under 2 years
Under the age of two years, babies are exploring the new world around them. They spend most of their playtime making use of all of their senses, touching everything around them, tasting anything they can get their hands on and babbling to hear their own voice. They bang, learning repetition and trial and error. This is all part of starting to learn motor skills, creating functioning, active babies.
2. Parallel play
2 years old
The next stage of play is for 2 and 3 year-olds. Parallel play is when socializing first begins. Babies at this stage play next to each other, but do not interact. Even though they do not acknowledge each other, they do recognize that other babies are there. This is the first stage in stepping outside of one’s self and noticing others.
3. Imitative play
2-3 years old
Shortly after parallel play, children start to imitate those around them. They’ve probably already been imitating their parents and adults in their lives, but at the stage of imitative play, they’re starting to embrace the actions of those their age. This is the first outward sign of acknowledging others.
4. Associative play
3-4.5 years old
While maintaining their independent interests, children play together. They may acknowledge what the other is doing and discuss what they are doing with each other, but they are not yet working toward a common goal. They are not yet playing together.
5. Cooperative play
4-6 years old
Finally, during cooperative play, children start to work toward a common goal. They are working together, or against each other, but most definitely interacting. This is the vital stage where we start to see future socializing skills forming.
There’s a whole list of books out there that help kids learn their numbers.
ABC books like these teach children letter recognition:
Teach your little ones colors:
Help toddlers learn their shapes:
-“Educational Books for Toddlers.” Scholastic. http://www.scholastic.com/resources/article/educational-books-for-toddlers/
-“Favorite Books for Preschoolers.” Great Schools <http://www.greatschools.org/cgi-bin/showarticle/3607/>
-Photo courtesy of Stuart Miles/freedigitalphotos.net
Recently, more and more parents have been teaching their little ones sign language, many before they can even speak. The idea is that babies have the cognitive ability to comprehend language, but lack the physical ability to make the sounds. They can, however, learn sign language because the ability to make hand motions comes before the ability to easily form words.
Many experts even believe the benefits of learning sign language go farther than communication. Some have found that use of signing as a baby leads to confidence and higher self-esteem later in life. Signing also rewards eye contact, an important component of socializing that they’ll master in their later years.
Take the time for a short class, research online or pick up a book on simple sign language. Then start signing to your baby when you speak to him or her. As early or six or seven months, little ones can start using those signs to communicate with you.
“Please” and “thank you” are easy signs to learn, but they’ll help instill manners from the very beginning, making them a habit and giving you the most polite baby around!
Teach your baby his or her favorite foods. Signs for “milk” “peas” and “applesauce” could save you a spit up mouthful of mushed up carrots. Plus, the simple signs for “food” and “water” help your baby tell you when he or she is hungry or thirsty.
Signs for “more” and “done” can be more useful than imaginable. Babies often throw tantrums to show frustration and what’s more frustrating than being unable to communicate? Save yourself a scene by teaching your little one how to ask for more or tell you they’re finished.
-“Baby sign language: top ten starter signs.” Baby Sign Language
-“Teaching your baby sign language can benefit both of you.” Psych Central
-Photo courtesy of photostock/freedigitalphotos.net
The percent of children who speak a language other than English at home has risen from 10% to 21% in the past three decades, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. The amount of bilingual kids is on the rise and, while it’s actually been proven that older children may have an advantage when learning a second language, it never hurts to begin early. Starting off with more than one language as a baby will not slow progress of language in any way and will only advance memorization and problem solving skills. Here are some helpful tips for raising bilingual children:
Learn with them.
If you don’t already speak the second language you’re introducing to your child, this is your opportunity to learn too. They better you understand what you expect your little one to learn, the more thorough job you can do teaching them.
Don’t feel like you need to be a pro and start speaking half in English and half in the chosen language. Start by throwing in a couple bedtime books in Spanish. Or sing simple, children’s French songs in the car. Adding small splashes of the secondary language will help teach your toddler basic vocabulary and concepts, the first start to raising a bilingual child.
Hire bilingual help.
Need a babysitter or nanny? Consider hiring one who speaks a second language and request that they communicate with your kids using that language at least 50% of the time. This is a great approach because it incorporates handy, everyday activities with the new vocabulary, making it easier to learn the familiar actions.
Take a vacation.
If affordable, travel to a country that speaks the language your child is learning. This is an especially great option as children get older and learn social skills. It will give them the opportunity to use their new language while making new friends.
-Lowry, Lauren. “Bilingualism in Young Children: Separating Fact from Fiction.” The Hanen Center.
-“Raising bilingual kids: benefits and techniques.” PHD in Parenting.
-“ Fast Facts: English Language Learners.” National Center for Education Statistics.
-Paturel, Amy. “A Guide to Raising Bilingual Children.” Parenting.com
-Photo courtesy of Phaitoon/freedigitalphotos.net
How early is too early to start your child in a school-based program? Can a two-year-old really gain anything from an early learning program? Are these programs really just daycares in disguise? These are all questions that may run through your mind when considering if you should enroll your child in an early preschool program, sometimes referred to as “Two’s programs.”
Don’t worry! Enrolling your two-year-old in an early learning program is neither too strict nor silly. Some benefits of early childhood education include:
-Improved social skills
-Practice interacting with adults
-Early intervention and the opportunity to spot any developmental delays
Here are some tips on what to look for if you decide to enroll your child in an early preschool program:
-Read reviews to get an idea of what’s available
-Visit the school to get a feel for the early program.
-Meet with the teacher and ask them about experience, background, and daily activities.
-Look for smaller group sizes. This is important, especially for little ones just starting out who aren’t used to learning in big group settings yet.
-Make sure the program offers plenty of communication through conferences, phone calls and any other form. This is an opportunity to learn about your child’s strengths, weaknesses and interests.
-“What are the Benefits of Early Childhood Education?” LiveStrong
-“Early Preschool: Too Young for School?” Parenting.com
-Photo courtesy of Stuart Miles/freedigitalphotos.net
It’s never too early to start preparing your little one for the big transition into preschool. It’s important to stimulate their minds so that they’re ready to jump in and start their schooling. You’re probably already prepping your child, even if you didn’t realize it.
Exploring the outdoors not only creates adventure, but it’s your child’s first science class. Digging in dirt, feeding birds and rolling around in the grass sparks his or her interest in the natural world. Think of it as a basic bio lab.
Read a bedtime story.
There’s no better way to promote literacy than reading out loud to your child. Try choosing two bedtime books. That way, one can be an old favorite that they’ve probably memorized, but the other can be a new story with unfamiliar, stimulating sentences.
Set play dates.
Play dates are socializing practice for the real world. In preschool, your child will be surrounded by other little ones. He or she will have to play, share, take turns and interact with their classmates so learning these skills in a more one-on-one environment is a great start.
Running around in a pretend princess dress isn’t just a good time. It’s helping shape your toddler’s thought process. Playing pretend is your child’s first attempt at abstract thinking.
Or draw. Or color. Or use watercolors. Art allows for expression, creativity and color recognition. And who knows, maybe you’re painting with the next Picasso.
Fliess, Sue. “How Playing Dress-Up Shapes Your Child.” Education.com <http://www.education.com/magazine/article/How_Dress_Shapes_Your_Child/>
Rabkin, Rachel. “Prepare Your Toddler for Preschool.” Parents.com. <http://www.parents.com/toddlers-preschoolers/starting-preschool/preparing/activities/>