|Credit: Photographer Angie Hill, subject: her son Braxton|
10. Talk to your baby. Tell her everything you are doing as you do it as in “Mommy is taking off your white shirt now” as you undress the baby for a bath or “Now, I’m putting you in the bath tub. The water is warm”. Doing this is great for a few reasons. One, you are exposing your child to words and her brain develops just from hearing the intonations in your voice and the inflection in your words. Second, she is learning passively that objects are assigned words and meaning. This is key for early vocabulary development. Never miss out on a chance to stimulate your child’s brain.
9. Read. Read. Read. Before your child is born, it would be ideal for him to have a library of at least 5 board books. They should be brightly colored and have rhyming words in them. Short of course because an infant’s attention span is but so long after all. Not to be judgmental, but I’m always saddened to go into a child’s home and see a TV set perched on a corner and neary a book in sight. You should read at least at bedtime to your baby. As he grows, he may develop favorites that he smiles at when he sees you pull it out of the bookshelf. Make sure you register for a few books among all the other fun baby items. I love to give books at baby showers. Books don’t get the same aaaah factor as cute clothes do during a shower but the moms and babies sure do appreciate them later.
8. Take your child to baby story time at the library. As soon as you can, find out if your local library or some other public place or bookstore has a story time for small children and babies. Again, exposing your child to language is essential and the way language sounds when being read to is quite different from when being spoken to and also the social aspect of being around other babies is great. They may be too young to really play with other kids, but getting to see other babies has its benefits. So does being exposed to another person reading and another voice other than your own. All good for the active synapses in your kid’s brain.
7. Take your baby everywhere This may be hard for winter babies, but another key to growing a smart baby and later child is exposing her to different environments. Even if it is just to the mall or the DMV, the different sounds, colors, patterns that she sees in different places are excellent stimulation. I know first time moms sometimes get neurotic about exposing their kids to germs from other people in the world. But that is such a bad move! Germs are good. They develop a child’s immune system. So long as the baby doesn’t have a condition with compromised immune system, I think nothing is better for a new baby than being exposed to the world and as early as possible. Later, as they get older getting them to the zoo, aquariums, museums or city festivals are good educational places to take the kids.
6. Play music. It doesn’t have to be Mozart though the creators of the Baby Einstein books, DVDs, CDs and toys would like you to think so. I do believe a bit that something about the pattern of classical music stimulates young brains more so than other music. Some of the children I’ve seen who’ve grown to be pretty good test takers and piano class whizzes were indeed exposed to music daily in their home. Children need a variety. Later, if you can afford it, I’d recommend enrolling your baby in a music and play class like the kind they offer at Gymboree Play and Music or Kindermusik. All of my kids were enrolled in these types of programs and beyond just exposing your children to unique ways of play, they also teach parents on what senses and skills are being developed by different types of play activities.
5. Expose your baby to different Textures. Having your baby feel different textured objects from early on also stimulates her brain. She is learning more about the diversity of her world in every possible way and through all her senses. I love those books that have different textures in them. My children love the That’s Not My Bear and That’s Not My Bear and similar books that the Usborne book company publishes. As she moves on to solids and starts sitting in a high chair, let her play with her food. I know your mom will freak, but that’s all part of learning about texture. When you are gardening, let her dig her hands in the dirt. All good stuff.
4. Lay on the Floor Vegging with her while she plays. Babies experience the world looking up at folks and being carried around. So what a break and a breath of fresh air it would be to look down at mommy for a change. Nothing’s better than having her explore on her own playing and having you down there on her level is a refreshing break in perspective. It’ s a bonding experience as well. I think it builds her confidence having you near by and that low while she explores. I got that tidbit from one of my kids’ favorite Kindermusik instructor.
3. Dance with Your Baby. Putting on some funky music and dancing around your crib with the baby is a fun and easy way to get her inner -outer ear tubing going. It’s great for helping a child’s developing sense of balance. It’s also a good way for bonding and it can be good exercise for the parent too. Balance is good for when your child starts to crawl and walk. She’s going to need coordination and balance is good for that.
2. Point to words as you read. It may sound silly to think that a child would know how to read from infancy, but like what the creators of the popular often advertised Baby Can Read system say, a child’s key time for learning is in that critical first 5 years when they are most receptive. Pointing out words teaches your child early that words you say are assigned to the letters that make up words. She may not know what you are saying but if you do it often enough, she will pick up the patterns. I actually had my kids on the system (though I admit falling off the wagon a bit) but today the 4 year old and 2 year old can still recognize various words. And do it everywhere. At restaurants. Going into the Changing Room. At the grocery store. Just ignore the folks giving you a funny look passing by as you do this.
1. Breastfeed. I am an advocate of breastfeeding and believe it is the best source of nutrients for your baby from the very start. I really do believe part of the reasons my kids are bright is that they were breastfed for an extended period of time. Breastmilk not only builds a baby’s immunity from the mom’s antibodies being passed on to it, but the process builds a nurturing bond. I recognize that not all moms are comfortable breastfeeding and it can be a difficult process. Failure to latch, thrush (a sore in a baby’s mouth), engorgement, sore cracked nipples and low milk production are all obstacles that can prevent successful nursing. By all means, if these obstacles prevent you from nursing your child, they are not doomed to not be smart of course. I know of plenty of smart doctors, lawyers, and geniuses who were not nursed as a baby, so there you have it! ha.
I honestly believe if you follow these ten simple steps at a minimum, you will be on your way to giving your baby a healthy smart and a great foundation for future learning. The rest is up to you. And I highly recommend Smart-Wiring Your Baby’s Brain, What You Can Do to Stimulate Your Child During the Critical First Three Years by Winifred Conkling a book I picked up years ago which is an easy read and supports much of these ten tips. I’m sure I subconsciously scrubbed some of the concepts in putting together this list.