Louise Pyne on the five simple steps you can take to supercharge your child’s cognitive development
During pregnancy and throughout your baby’s first year, his brain undergoes a massive amount of growth. By the time he reaches three months, your little one’s brain will have reached half its adult size, and by 12 months he will be making sense of everything he hears, sees, feels and tastes. “The brain stem connects to the brain at around 13 weeks of pregnancy and from that moment on, it’s all systems go,” explains Angela Spencer, author of Babyopathy. Genetics, environmental factors and his earliest experiences all contribute to this basic neurological wiring, and you too can help to nurture his development on an everyday basis – here’s how:
Engage with your baby
From day one, your baby is constantly absorbing the world around him, and while he might not be able to speak back to you, interacting with him around the clock will help him develop intellectually, so take advantage of this window of opportunity. “Wherever possible always be descriptive, you’re not just putting a sock on, for example, you are putting ‘one red sock on your foot’ and then, ‘two red socks on.’ Don’t just wipe his nose or face but tell him what you are doing before you do it and as you do it, so he starts to associate your words with actions. He will develop a much wider understanding of vocabulary this way,” says Angela.
Take trips to the library
It’s never too early to start reading to your child, in fact, experts believe that reading should begin in the womb. “As his senses come to life, what he hears, sees and feels all contributes to early brain development. By reading to your baby in the womb (even reading a magazine out loud while having a cup of tea), means your baby will already be forming patterns of voice and tone recognition,” explains Angela. And once your baby is born and babbling away, try to find books that have pictures as babies absorb much more information before they can actually verbalise it. “So by the time he can actually say ‘giraffe’, he will have been able to visually recognise it for quite some time,” continues Angela. Finally, in order to encourage a love of reading from an early age, take your baby on an outing to the library every few weeks to stock up on new material.
Set up a good sleep routine
Ensuring your baby gets enough sleep is as important for mental development as it is for physical, so prioritising a good routine from around week eight should be a top priority. “As adults we recognise that a lack of sleep can affect our ability to function and perform tasks the next day, and so it makes sense that sleep is important to a baby and their brain development too,” says Angela. Be aware of tiredness cues such as baby rubbing his eyes and becoming restless, and make sure to show him the difference between night and day to help regulate his internal body clock.
Be extra affectionate
Your baby is dependent on you not just for round-the-clock feeds and nappy changes but also for care and affection. By month five, your baby will be able to show his emotions by smiling and cooing and it’s important to encourage his positive expressions to foster a strong emotional bond. Responding to your baby’s signs of affection also builds intelligence and logic as he gradually learns that his actions have an effect on you. “Your baby needs to know through every sense that he is loved, so smiles, words, actions and touch play a big role,” says Angela.
Playtime is hugely rewarding for babies of all ages, so whether it’s shaking a rattle or building a tower of blocks, your little one will be actively learning how the world works through play. “You don’t have to shell out on expensive toys, use everyday items like a cardboard box filled with colourful scraps of material, or make a rattle from a water bottle filled with pasta shells, to help strengthen brain cells. Songs with lots of hand gestures, tummy time and enticing items to encourage baby to reach out and pick up are all ways of boosting his reasoning skills,” Angela says.