As parents, we are all aware of the importance of creating a mentally stimulating environment for our young children. From the moment we find out we’re pregnant, we’re bombarded with ‘fun for the brain’ advertisements for educational and stimulating toys, told to pump classical music through headphones attached to our bellies, and given countless tips about how to improve the cognitive development of our babies. What are we to do to ensure that our children are getting the stimulation they need to put their best foot forward, starting as early as possible?
Well, if you’re anything like me, you’ll go crazy during your first pregnancy reading about Piaget’s stages of development and watching terrifying documentaries about feral children in Russia. You’ll make sure your first child’s nursery is stocked with the latest in developmental toys, books and DVDs. You’ll read to your newborn, not skipping any words. You’ll freak out putting her into her crib while you shower, because when she’s left alone to cry, you’re altering her brain chemistry forever.
Then, you’ll have a mini (or not so mini) breakdown.
Miraculously, your baby will end up happy, smart and healthy, no matter how many times you fail her by being selfish enough to actually wash AND condition your hair.
How to stimulate your kid? Go ahead and read all about how to mentally stimulate your baby. Educate yourself about all the latest in toy technology, learning games and tricks to boost your baby’s IQ, if it makes you feel better. And then… throw all of that information away and start listening to your baby.
The fact is, children are stimulated in the most positive and effective way by watching you carry out your daily tasks.
Engage your baby by:
- Talking to her
- Singing to her
- Pointing out objects in her environment
- Showing her pictures
- Making faces
- Peeking around the corner and surprising her
- Touching, hugging and kissing her
- Counting aloud her little toes
Make her life as lively and engaging as possible, just by loving her in an active way.
The most important thing you can do for the cognitive development of your child is to listen to her. Pay attention to times when your baby is alert and showing an interest in something. If she lights up while transferring pebbles from a bucket to the sidewalk and back again, get down on the ground and transfer pebbles with her. Ask her questions like, “Which one is the big pebble? Which one is the bumpy pebble?” Explore the properties of inside and outside.
Turn a seemingly insignificant activity into a learning opportunity.
Read to your child. Your baby might only be able to get through a page or two at a time. My youngest daughter is a little spitfire, and she won’t tolerate listening to the words written on the page. If I try to actually read words to her, she gets impatient and slaps the book out of my hands. If I look through the pictures with her and ask her lots of questions about what she sees and make up funny voices to go along with the pictures, she stays entertained for hours.
Watch your child for cues about what she is interested in learning. My 17 month old baby counted to ten one afternoon, with no prompting from me. She was late to roll over and she didn’t walk until she was 16 months old. By observing my baby, I saw that she was a numbers and letters girl. She loves counting and learning her ABCs – she taught me that about herself. Instead of trying to push her to learn to do things she wasn’t interested in, we worked together on the things she wanted to learn, and the rest came along eventually.
When figuring out what to teach your baby, take a look at what your baby is teaching you.
Most of all, have fun. Never set out to teach your baby something without involving fun. Putting on Mozart and drilling your child with flash cards might sound like an awesomely productive idea, but your baby won’t learn a thing unless she’s having fun.
Play equals learning for a child – it’s fun for the brain. The more you can lighten up and see the world as a place full of fun and opportunity, the better you’ll be at teaching your children to do the same.