What does your baby’s brain have in common with the milky way? There are as many neurons as there are stars in our galaxy: 100 billion. A baby’s brain activity begins as early as ten to twelve weeks after conception. In fact, the brain is the only unfinished organ we are born with. Neurons are forming and connections are firing at lightening speed. What’s happening in the brain and how can you support your baby’s cognitive development in the healthiest of ways?
I’ve been working with children for a long time, and I can tell you that most parents think their child shows signs of genius. I happen to agree with them, but the methods they believe will support their child’s brain development are often developmentally inappropriate. This is especially true when it comes to infants and toddlers. Baby videos and infant reading programs (or any other technology for that matter) are not your best brain development tools. Babies are trying to make sense of their world, soaking up every sensory experience they have and forming brain connections with them. Here are some preferred methods for supporting this process.
Birth to three months
Just after birth, your baby’s brain starts developing trillions of connections between neurons very much like a road way system. He is also pruning in his sleep, helping him to synthesize and categorize the sensory information he’s taken in during his wake time. High quality sensory stimulation is important, as well as mobility development. To help support both of these, give your baby around thirty minutes of tummy time each day. Pressure on the belly supports healthy nervous system development and will help your baby develop his neck muscles. It will also help your baby develop coordination and visual tracking skills as he moves his head side to side following sounds.
Three to six months
Your baby will be working on grasping at this time. Try putting grasping toys, such as teethers and rattlers, just out of your baby’s reach. Tummy time is a great opportunity to do this. The rapid fire of electrical impulses zooming through the brain is incredible as your baby reaches out towards the object. And the grasping skills she’s developing are a precursor to self-feeding, walking, and even reading and writing (easy there, I mean a few years later).
Another important concept your baby is beginning to develop at this time is object permanence. This development helps alleviate separation anxiety, as your baby learns that absence of sight does not mean absence of existence. You can begin playing peek a boo at this time, which is not only fun but also teaches your baby that you are still there even though she cannot see you. You can even use scarves to cover up a grasping toy on your baby’s blanket and let her uncover them.
Six months and up
This is a big developmental time for your baby and movement is the key to building his brain. Physical movement equals brain exercise and being on the floor is critical. Give your baby lots of floor time and child-proof everything. Because I’m a nature lover (and also because research supports the connection between outdoor sensory opportunities and a baby’s healthy brain development), I believe your baby needs to be outdoors on a blanket or crawling around on the earth for at least thirty minutes a day.
Some of your baby’s healthiest and richest sensory experiences will come from interacting with nature. In fact, you do not have to worry about over-stimulation when a baby is outdoors because nature seems to safeguard us in this way. Let your baby explore the feeling of dirt and grass under him. Playing with sand, rocks, sticks, bark and leaves is healthy and makes incredible progress in brain development. An important thing to mention here is that you make sure your natural environment does not include pesticides.