Children’s brains are amazing, and parents can play an important role in their development from the very beginning.
“For the first three years of life, babies and children develop 1 million brain cells per second and thousands of connections between each brain cell,” said Dr. Adiaha Spinks-Franklin, developmental pediatrician at Texas Children’s Hospital.
“That means that the brain develops faster than any other organ for the first three years of life. This is an important period of a child’s life to “fill their brains up” with good – reading, independent living skills, social skills, empathy, knowledge about the world, self-control, vocabulary, learning to solve problems, etc.”
Spinks-Franklin said evidence shows that a child’s capacity to learn can be maximized when parents stimulate the child’s behaviors through reading, life experiences (such as trips to parks, museums and other experiences), and having conversations with your child.
“A child’s cognitive capacity can be hindered by limiting a child’s exposure to the world, spending too much time in a front of a screen (e.g., TV, electric tablet, computer, cell phone), and by toxic levels of stress,” she said.
Here are more tips on maximizing kids’ brain power from other pediatric and educational experts:
- Know the “5 Rs” of early education that help build the social, emotional and language skills that support healthy brain development. READ together every day with your child. RHYME, play and cuddle with your child every day. Develop ROUTINES, particularly around meals, sleep and family fun. REWARD your child with praise for successes to build self-esteem and promote positive behavior. Develop a strong and nurturing RELATIONSHIP with your child as the foundation for their healthy development
- The books that you select to read with your child are important. If you aren’t sure of what books are right, ask a librarian to help you choose titles. Introduce your child to books when he or she is a baby. Let them hold and play with books made just for them.
- Writing and reading go hand in hand. Make sure that your child receives every opportunity to practice both. When your child is about 2 years old, give him paper and crayons and encourage him to scribble and draw. Coloring also helps young children build their vocabulary and learn color names.
- Traditional toys can be superior to electronic toys for children’s language development. Often, when toys talk, parents talk less and kids vocalize less. Low-tech toys such as blocks, dolls, musical instruments, cars, trains and shape-sorters encourage kids and parents to interact, play, talk and sing.
- Songs such as “Pat-a-cake” and “Itsy Bitsy Spider” enhance your little one’s communication skills and promote face-to-face interaction and turn-taking. Even blowing kisses or waving bye-bye builds social interaction and conversation skills.
- Enjoy tech-free activities such as a play date in the park or a trip to the zoo. If you are using a phone or other device, use it with your kids. Talk about what you see, ask them questions and engage them face-to-face.
Additional sources: American Academy of Pediatrics, PTA, U.S. Department of Education