Ages 0-5: Boost Your Baby’s Brain Power

Research conducted at the College of Family and Consumer Sciences at the University of Georgia concludes that your baby’s brain will develop more in the first five years of life than throughout the rest of his life, and a significant amount of research points to the first three years of life as being most critical to your baby’s developing brain.

Inside your baby’s brain

Your baby is born with more than 100 billion neurons, or brain cells — all that he or she needs for a lifetime. As an infant and young child, these brain cells are not yet linked to form the complex networks required for mature thought processes. As your baby grows into a toddler and preschooler, thin fibers or synapses grow and connect, forming the neurological foundation upon which he will build a lifetime of skills.

Experts and researchers studying immature brain development and processing know that during these early years, not only does a child’s brain triple in weight, it also establishes several thousands of these synapses or nerve connections. The final number of synapses is largely thought to be determined by early experiences.

Your role as a parent is important for your child’s brain development. When you touch your child’s hand and he reactively grasps your finger, nerve fibers from the baby’s palm transmit impulses to his brain’s sensory motor center and establish a connection. When your baby cries and you talk to him, the nerves in his ears send signals to his brain, and a circuit is programmed in the hearing center. Picking up your baby so she can see your face sends nerve signals from her eye through a link with those in her brain’s visual center.

Stimulating brain development

BrainWonders, a collaborative project of Boston University School of Medicine, Erikson Institute and Zero to Three, has helped parents and caregivers understand that the amount of stimulus a child’s brain receives has a significant impact on the number of connections it forms. Researchers at BrainWonders stress that repetition and consistent stimulation featuring light, sounds and colors are the most preferred ways to stimulate your baby’s maturing brain cells.

“Making eye contact with your child, talking to him, and interacting through language, touch and visual aides are extremely beneficial,” explains pediatrician Michael Anderson.

Games also can enhance your baby’s development. Joseph Sparling, an early childhood educator and fellow at the FPG Child Development Institute at UNC Chapel Hill, co-developed a program with Isabelle Lewis called LearninGames — The Abecedarian Curriculum (available at www.mindnurture.com) that provides simple activities for children birth to 5 years that emphasize development skills.

The Abecedarian Project was a controlled scientific study where researchers at the FPG Child Development Institute followed a group of 111 infants born between 1972 and 1977, about half of whom were randomly assigned to receive early educational intervention. Children’s progress was monitored over time. Findings showed that children who participated in the early intervention program had higher cognitive test scores from the toddler years to age 21, and academic achievement in both reading and math was higher from the primary grades through young adulthood.

Location, location, location

Raising your baby in a safe, nurturing environment also affects his developing brain. “This includes the environment at day care or when he’s spending time with a babysitter,” says neurologist and professor Mario Taldaga.

Make sure that your baby’s daily routine allows for a balance of periods of quiet play and rest as well as interaction with lights, sounds and peers. “A variety of stimulus is desirable when nurturing a child’s developmental progress, provided it is a well-balanced variety,” notes Taldaga, a Highland Park, Ill., father of four.

Nurturing yourself

Caring for your own often-tired mind is equally essential when promoting your baby’s development. You’re best able to enhance your baby’s mental abilities when you’re refreshed.

“A parent who is mentally exhausted cannot enjoy the experience of nurturing their child’s development,” Taldaga adds. Allow for moments to clear your mental slate and recharge your own battery to effectively and happily feed your child’s growing mind. If you are in a healthy, relaxed and happy environment, your baby will benefit both from his surroundings as well as your reactions and interactions.

Five easy ways to nurture your baby’s developing brain

Read to your child for at least 10 minutes every day.

Respond to his cries, sounds, needs, etc.

Provide ample room to crawl, stretch, play and move.

Communicate with your baby through language,
eye contact and touch.

Offer a variety of safe textures, aromas, etc.,
to stimulate his senses.

Gina Roberts-Grey is a freelance writer who frequently writes about family and parenting topics.

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