When my children were very little, I felt overwhelmed often by the desire to do everything “right”. I wanted to make sure that I was offering the best I could in every area, but I was never very confident that I was succeeding. Now that my children are older (and I am much more well rested) I have had the time to read what science tells us about the developing brain of our children – and giving them what they need is not as complicated as I once believed.
When I think of brain development the first thing to come to mind is language. Of course, when they are very young, children communicate clearly without language, but their needs are pretty straight forward. As a child gets older we can tell that there are more complicated thoughts and feelings happening. There is a lot that we can do to develop skills to help our children communicate and learn. When you talk, read, and sing with your child – even before they can use words – you’re helping them learn. Research shows that talking, reading and singing with your child every day from birth helps build their brains. Talk, read and sing with your child in the language you are most comfortable using. The more words and conversations you share together, the better prepared their brains will be to learn. You are your baby’s first teacher!
Tips for Infants
- Your touch and voice help your baby learn. Listen to the fun sounds your baby makes and repeat them. When they coo, coo back. Hold their hand gently and when they smile, smile back. Your loving touch combined with this back-and-forth “baby language” are the first steps in talking.
- Everywhere you go, talk about what you see and what your baby is looking at: “Wow, I see the four dogs, too!” “I love that red truck you’re playing with. It goes beep beep!”
- Play “Peek-a-boo” while getting your baby dressed. Ask, “Where’s (baby’s name)?” when you pull a shirt over your baby’s head. Then say, “There you are!”
- Read a book or tell a story to your baby every day – in whatever language you feel most comfortable – beginning at birth. Remember that “reading” doesn’t have to be just the words in the book. Talking about the pictures while pointing is “reading” to an infant.
- Cuddle with your baby as you share a book. It doesn’t matter how young your child is; even newborn babies are learning when their parents read with them.
- Hold your baby close during bedtime and sing a favorite song again and again. Singing the same song can help your baby feel calm and safe.
- Sing silly songs about your day to help get your baby’s attention during diaper changing.
- Your baby loves to hear your voice even if you think you can’t sing! The sound of your voice is comforting to your baby.
Tips for Toddlers
- Everywhere you go, talk about what you see. A stop sign, a traffic light, or a tree might seem boring to you, but it’s a whole new world to your child, so teach them about it!
- Young children learn best during playful, everyday activities. Play “I-Spy” in the grocery store together. Choose a color and encourage your child to point out objects that match the color.
- Play games during bath time to help your child learn new words. Take turns dropping toys in the water. Say, “Watch it sink!” or “It floats!”
- Point to the pictures, letters, and numbers in books. Ask open-ended questions as you share the book together. “What do you see? How does he feel? What would you do if you were her? What’s your favorite page?”
- Let your child turn the book’s pages. It’s OK if they skip pages, or like a few pages better than others. You just want your child to get used to touching books.
- Sing during everyday activities like driving in the car, or during bath time. It can be repetitive and simple, like “Wash your toes, wash your nose!”
- Singing songs that have basic counting or rhyming patterns also helps children learn basic math skills. “One, two, buckle my shoe. Three, four, open the door.”
- Your toddler loves to get positive attention from you. Singing is a great way for you and your toddler to share an activity together.