An infant’s brain is only about 25% developed at birth, so babies are born with an innate need to learn. Over the first year of life, your child’s brain will more than double in size. By age three, your child’s brain will be about 80% of the size of an adult’s and  twice as active. It is important to stimulate your child’s brain in order to create the synapses that establish the pathways for learning.

Brain growth is mainly influenced by the production of neural pathways within your child’s brain. All five senses are involved in creating these pathways: hearing, sight, smell, taste, and touch. Stimulating your child’s brain will lead to their increased ability to adapt to different environments, absorb learning, and get along better with others as they age.

Language is the basis of cognitive development; talking, singing, and reading to your baby is the best way to nurture your child’s brain development. Face your baby as much as possible when talking to them because a large part of learning language is acquired by watching how you form words.

To learn more about your child’s brain development, click here!

Make time for your child every day!

Spend time having fun with your baby every day. Try to incorporate the following skills as much as possible: animal sounds, hearing, fine and gross motor skills, rhythm and bouncing, rocking, and touch. These are the same skills highlighted in the West Des Moines Library’s early childhood storytimes.

Animal Sounds

Introducing animal sounds can help develop language in young children. Animal sounds require less complicated mouth movements and are the easiest sounds for children to make. To reinforce a sound, try using a picture of the animal or an animal object (such as a puppet). Having a visual of the animal helps to reinforce the sound-object association. Animal sounds are not only easy to make, but most children are very curious about animals. This makes the learning process that much more enjoyable. Remember, these animal sounds count as words! Here are some other ways to incorporate animal sounds:

  • Play with stuffed animals or puppets.
  • Read books with animals in them. Point out the animals and make the corresponding sounds. Allow time between the animal sounds for your child to absorb both the sound and the connection to the picture they are seeing.
  • Sing songs with animals in them such as Old MacDonald; Baa, Baa Black Sheep; or Down on Grandpa’s Farm.
  • Visit a zoo to see more exotic animals.

For more information on speech development visit the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association.

Hearing

Hearing is critical in the first 6 months of life, when babies begin to acquire language from their caregiver’s actions, sounds, and words. Monitor your baby’s hearing frequently.

  • Does your baby look toward loud or excited noises from pets or other children in the house?
  • Talk to your child. Does your baby respond? Try this while holding your child, and then again after moving away. Does the baby look toward your voice?
  • Shake a rattle to one side and then the other. Does the baby lean toward the sound?

If your baby don’t seem to notice sounds, have his or her hearing checked. A hearing checklist for your baby is available at The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders.

Fine and Gross Motor Skills

Fine Motor Skills:  Fingerplays, including counting rhymes, help develop the muscles in the hand that will hold crayons, scissors, and pencils as your child ages. These will also aid your child in their ability to dress themselves and tie their shoes, and, in very young babies, develop from the raking grasp to the pincher grasp. Practice songs and fingerplays with actions that you already know such as the The Eensy, Weensy Spider and Patty-a-Cake.

  • Encourage your child to use small board books with chunky pages that are easy to turn.
  • Place colorful toys on their stroller or car seat that will invite them to reach out and grab.
  • Play finger rhymes such as this little piggy.
  • Sing songs with finger movements such as Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.
  • Use a shaker egg or small rattle that will engage and interest your child.

If you want to add some fun new rhymes and songs to your library, you can check out nursery rhyme books from the library or visit this site http://www.mdpls.org/readingReady/attach/WebNurseryRhymes.pdf

Gross Motor Skills:  The large muscles of your body enable you to walk, jump, kick, and throw.  Muscle tone and strength are developed in your child’s first years by rolling over, then sitting up, crawling, standing, walking, and running.  Each skill builds upon the other from birth to age 4.

If you’d like to learn more about gross motor skill milestones, visit The Encyclopedia of Children’s Health.

Rhythm and Bouncing

Bouncing rhymes are lots of fun, but they also help your child feel the parts of words as you speak.  This action literally ingrains the rhythm of language into a child physically and will later help when learning to read. Notice that your child will move to the rhythm of a song or bouncing rhyme long before they can talk.

  • Dance with your child while listening to music.
  • Gently bounce your child while reading to them, especially when you are reading books with a strong beat such as Chicka, Chicka Boom, Boom by Bill Martin, Jr.
  • Help your baby clap along to a strong, steady beat. This helps to instill the rhythm of language.
  • Hold your baby while reciting nursery rhymes.

Rocking

Rocking is not just a soothing motion. It aids in the development of the vestibular system, as well.  This complicated system helps your child with balancing activities, including crawling and walking, as they age.  It also coordinates eye movements with  head movements in activities such as turning the head to watch a moving object, and  copying from a blackboard. In addition, the vestibular system helps build the muscle tone necessary to hold our body upright, and to maintain positions, such as holding the head up.

  • Rock your baby during feeding times or when they are fussy.
  • Bounce with your baby to poems and nursery rhymes.
  • Dance to music while holding your baby – this type of movement  helps by putting the head in and out of balance.

Touch

Touching your baby is one of the most important activities you can do.  In its most primal state, it tells a baby (in the only language they understand at birth) that they are safe, loved, and wanted.  Touch is also vital to helping infants develop attachment, which is also critical at this stage. Research has shown that infants who have not been held and touched have brains 20 – 30 % smaller than peers who benefited from caring contact.

Gentle touch can help to calm your crying or upset baby, reducing stress both physically (by lowering heart rate and slowing breathing) and mentally (as the brain is bathed in the stress relieving hormone, cortisol). A calm baby is better able to learn because they are more ready to take in sights, sounds, and smells.

  • Attend baby classes like our Lapsit program that focus on caregiver/child touch interactions.
  • Hold your baby during feeding times.
  • If you have a sling or carrier, let your baby spend time in it each day. Being close to your body and your heartbeat will soothe them.
  • Swaddle your child and use rocking motions when they are fussy.
  • Try gentle baby massage: stroke your baby’s arms, legs, back, and tummy during changing times or after bath time.
  • Use a soft voice during these intentional touch times to further the sense of calm and safety for your baby.

For more information on the importance of touch, check out this great article.