6 - 12 months
For years, parents, educators and scientists have focused on the
first five years of life as the most vital in the development of a
child's brain. Although research conducted at the College of Family
and Consumer Sciences at the University of Georgia does conclude
your baby's brain will develop more in the first five years of life
than throughout the rest of his life, a significant amount of new
research points to the first three years as being most critical to
your baby's developing brain.
Astonishingly, at the age of 3, a child has nearly twice as many
nerve connections as most adults. While the debate continues as to
whether or not a child's brain continues to develop from age 3 to 5
as rapidly and efficiently as it does up to the age of 3,
researchers and physicians agree that stimulating or "feeding" a
baby's brain has a significant impact on his brain's ability to
Inside your baby's brain
The more than 100 billion neurons, or brain cells, your child is
born with will be virtually all that he or she needs for a
lifetime. As an infant and young child, all of these young brain
cells are not yet linked together to form the complex networks
required for mature thought processes to take place. 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.
Health care 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 your child's brain will have is largely
thought to be determined by his earliest experiences.
So your role as a parent is of paramount importance.
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 your baby up to see your face sends nerve signals from his
eye through a link with those in his brain's visual center.
BrainWonders, a collaborative project of Boston University
School of Medicine, Erikson Institute and Zero to Three, helps
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 lights, sounds and colors are the
most preferred ways to stimulate your baby's maturing brain
Replace videos, cartoons and shows with consistent
communication. "Making eye contact with your child, talking to him
and interacting through language, touch and visual aids are
extremely beneficial," explains pediatrician Michael Anderson.
As an alternative to television or monotony, many parents find
toys and games aimed at increasing your baby's development very
Location, location, location
Raising your baby in a safe, nurturing environment is also
significant to his developing brain. "This includes the environment
at day care or when he's spending time with a babysitter," says
neurologist and professor Dr. Mario Taldaga, a Highland Park father
Make sure 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," Taldaga says.
Nurturing your own brain
Caring for your own energy and often-tired mind is equally
essential when promoting your baby's development. Your own attitude
and environment can accentuate your mission of enhancing 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 says. Allow for
moments to clear your mental slate and recharge your own battery to
effectively and happily feed your child's growing mind. Keep in
mind, if you are in a healthy, relaxed and happy environment, your
baby will benefit both from his surroundings as well as your
reaction to the surroundings and to his actions.
• Zero to Three
A national nonprofit organization that informs, trains and supports
policymakers and parents.
• Erikson Institute Center for Children and Families
Opened in January for families with concerns about their child's
development, behavior or learning, the center assists children
birth to age 8.
Nurture your baby's brain
• Read to your baby for at least 10 minutes every day.
• Respond to his cries, sounds and needs.
• Provide ample room to crawl, stretch and play.
• Communicate with your baby through language, eye contact
• Offer a variety of safe textures and aromas to stimulate
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