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 function.
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.
Boosting brain development
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 cells.
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 helpful.
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 of four.
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 professionals, policymakers and parents. www.zerotothree.org
•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.
www.erikson.edu/ccf 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 and touch.
•Offer a variety of safe textures and aromas to stimulate his senses.