Between 0-5, a young child’s brain grows more than at any other phase of life. Science tells us that some of our brain’s potential is inherited, but research shows that quality early childhood experiences are key for brain development.
Babies learn when we talk to them.
Playing with infants is shown to help their brains develop.
Parents have the power to impact their baby’s future through brain stimulation.
Early learning opportunities from birth help a baby’s brain grow.
Most brain formation happens in the first five years of life.
Our experiences at this age can affect us positively or negatively as we learn and grow into adults. Let’s look further into the myths and facts about brain stimulation for babies.
Myth #:1 My infant can’t talk, so I don’t need to talk to them
Young babies thrive on human interaction. They invite the adults in their lives to interact with them. Babies interact with adults by smiling, cooing, or crying. They learn and make brain connections through positive care, stimulation, and interaction. For example, when a parent or caregiver responds by talking, it builds the infant’s brain!
Researchers tell us that when mothers speak to their infants, those babies learn almost 300 more words by age two. However, simply listening to the TV or adults talking to each other provides very little brain stimulation. So when you talk directly to your baby, you are helping your baby’s brain development.
Myth #2: My baby is too young to play
Birth to age five is an intense time for brain growth. In the first few years of life, our brains are building their wiring system. The electrical connections in the brain are called synapses. These synapses need brain activity. Brain activity for babies comes from consistent stimulation. The way to stimulate a baby’s brain is through play.
Here are ways you can play with your baby:
An infant’s brain gets signals to grow through touch. When you lovingly diaper, bathe, or feed your baby, your touch helps them form more brain connections. Giving your baby touch experiences to help them learn. Try laying them on different surfaces like towels or blankets and helping them touch smooth, bumpy, wet, sticky, or cool items.
When we read to our babies, they love the pictures and the sound of our voices. When you read, use different tones of voice that match the storyline. Speak excitedly if the book is action-packed. Use a soft, calm voice for bedtime stories. If the book includes “touch and feels” pages, place your baby’s hand on those areas.
Sing to your baby and play lullabies. Music delights infants with rhythms and patterns and introduces them to new words.
Take your baby along when you run errands or do something fun. Babies use new sights, sounds, and smells to learn. For example, tell your baby a story about what you see outside your window. Narrate your grocery trip by saying something like, “We need apples.” This simple act gets your baby’s synapse firing!
Myth #3: My infant is either born smart or not, and I have no control over it
We have control over our baby’s brain development. We know through science that people inherit learning potential. But more importantly, research indicates that without a nurturing environment, babies' ability to learn can be negatively and permanently affected. Infants who don’t receive loving interactions do not develop as many brain connections and have been shown to have smaller-sized brains. Luckily, the opposite is true. If we provide loving care, and opportunities to explore, and talk to our infants, they show great potential for brain growth.
Myth #4: A baby’s brain develops most rapidly when they enter preschool
There is a saying that parents are a child’s first teacher. Even before young children venture out to preschool, babies learn by leaps and bounds. Research shows us that 90% of a child's brain is formed within the first five years of life. This is a vast window of learning opportunity that cannot be missed. Parents and caregivers should not wait and think preschool teachers will teach a child what they need to know. Give your baby very early experiences with hearing speech, feeling touch, seeing lots of things, smelling different items, and tasting new foods. You are your baby’s first teacher, and they depend on you for brain stimulation.
Myth #5: Infants need videos, flashcards, and educational baby toys to be smart
Babies do not need expensive or educational toys to learn. What they need is play. You might be relieved to learn that YOU are your child’s best toy. When you play “social games”, you are the toy. Social games are things like peek-a-boo, chase, hide and seek, and “Pat-a-cake”. These are free and fun, and your baby loves them more than toys.
Some more benefits of social games are:
- It’s easier for a baby to pay attention to just you rather than you and a toy.
- Without toys, it is easier for you to clue into your infant’s way of communicating.
- The repetition of social games helps babies learn.
- The actions and movements benefit children with language delay.
- You can make up games geared to your child’s interests (animals, nature, music).
- Social games are fun for your baby because they involve you and things they enjoy, such as songs, running, or jumping.
Early childhood health assessments follow a schedule from birth. Keep these important pediatrician visits on schedule to know your baby is developing normally. In between visits, if you have concerns about your infant’s growth or development, contact your child’s pediatrician to schedule a visit. At this visit, voice your concerns and ask for tips, guidance, and resources if you need them.
Brain research has shown that a baby’s environment greatly impacts brain growth and development. In early childhood, we need brain stimulation to grow our brains. How well we can think and learn as children and adults depend on early positive learning experiences. We need the love, touch, affection, and encouragement of responsive parents and caregivers. It is so important to talk, sing, read, and play with children from birth. When babies have these opportunities in safe and nurturing environments, we give them their best chance of reaching their highest potential.
- First Things First. The First Five Years.
- APA Psycnet. Early vocabulary growth: Relation to language input and gender.
- California Childcare Health Program. Building Baby’s Intelligence: Why Infant Stimulation Is So Important.
- ScienceDirect. Local Brain Functioning Activity Following Early Deprivation: A Study of Postinstitutionalized Romanian Orphans.
- National Library of Medicine. Normal brain development and aging: qualitative analysis at in vivo MR imaging at healthy volunteers.
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- American Academy of Pediatrics. The Power of Play: A Pediatric Role in Enhancing Development in Young Children.