Saturday, 12 March 2011
Creating a "Brainy" Child
Imagine if there was a product on the market that you could use to grow your toddler a brainier brain. The baby DVD market is known for various levels of hype suggesting that by popping your toddler in front of the television for some quality cognitive time, she can become advanced in various languages, mathematical skills, computer programming, and even advanced engineering (ok, so I'm exaggerating. But you know what programs I'm talking about, and what their claims are).
Even though many of the claims aren't quite so outlandish, companies are trying to encourage parents to pay money for products that don't actually provide ANY benefit to infant and young children's development. (See here for a review of some research on this topic).
You may be pleased to know that there are five really simple things that YOU can do, without paying for expensive programmes, that are REALLY effective in boosting brain development in your toddlers.
1. Talk to them
Believe it or not, the best way to stimulate brain development and early language acquisition is to expose your child to real conversation. Look at them, ask them questions, answer questions, and share conversation. Even if your infant has no language capacity at all, this is useful from both a bonding and a developmental perspective. Start at day one and keep on communicating with them. Use short sentences. Be animated in your facial expressions and tone of voice. Make talking fun.
2. Point at, and describe, EVERYTHING
When you put on your toddler's pink shirt, describe it. When you walk down the stairs, talk about it. When you are outside describe the world you live in, emphasising colours, smells, sounds, and sights. Turn every outing into a learning adventure.
3. Read, read, read.
There is a staggering amount of evidence that when parents read to their children, their children's language acquisition and development is significantly enhanced compared to children who receive little or no reading. Reading to your kids serves two terrific purposes. First, it's wonderful one-on-one time. Second, your child is exposed to more and more words, and learns them.
A couple of useful things to remember when you read, particularly to young children, are:
First, slow down. A lot. Read slower than you want to. Your child will process better.
Second, pause. A lot. Your child can respond when you pause. This facilitates his own language development as he begins to ask you questions or comment on the narrative.
Third, use picture books that tell a story without words. Ask your child, when she is old enough, to tell you the story based on what is happening in the pictures.
4. Music lessons make a difference
Research shows that kids who learn an instrument have better cognitive skills such as memory compared to non-musically trained children. It takes a few years for this effect to become strong, but once it does those children also develop greater verbal ability, academic skills, and even manual dexterity. Toddlers usually aren't ready for music lessons. Most music teachers begin taking students around the age of 6 or 7. However some schools of music training (for example, the Suzuki method) encourage children to learn from age 3.
5. Minimise screen time
I've blogged about this many times before (see here and here), but in short, kids under two should not watch television of have screen time - period. Young children should, ideally, be limited to around 30 minutes a day. And the rest of our children should try to stick under 60 minutes a day of screen time.
There's really no need to spend money on expensive 'developmental tools and products' to do something that can be done for free. Kids' brains will develop best when we talk to them, teach them, read to them, expose them to new learning opportunities like music, and minimise their interaction with the virtual world.