Think you need the latest educational gadgets for your baby? Think again! Find out what you should and should not do to optimize your child’s brain development.
Did you know the first 3 years of life are the most critical for brain development? This is the time when a baby’s brain develops the basic foundation of neural connections. If, however, a strong foundation of neural connections is not formed, it could cause future learning problems.
There are 2 main ways to optimize your baby’s brain development:
LOTS of face-to-face human interaction
Hands-on play and exploration
Talking Frequently to Your Child
Research has shown that THE most important factor in increasing mental ability and making neural connections is for parents to talk frequently to their children. Parents need to sing, read, tell stories, and basically talk about everything that is going on.
Beware of Screens and Talking Toys for Children Under Two
But beware, surrounding your children with the latest screens and talking toys may actually hinder their brain development. How? Babies are designed to learn from face-to-face, two-way human interaction. The parent says something, and the baby tries to say something back. There’s constant feedback and reinforcement. Plus, there’s eye contact and joint attention, which wires a baby’s brain for social communication.
Screens and electronic toys, however, are one-way communication. There’s no eye contact, joint attention, or back-and-forth conversation.
The concern of these talking toys and videos is that they entertain babies so much, they don’t get nearly as much face-to-face human interaction as they used to. It used to be if a baby was bored or needed attention, he would cry and his caregiver would pick him up and talk to him. Now, babies are surrounded with electronic toys or screens to occupy them and keep them calm and happy. The result is that parents aren’t picking up their infants and talking to them nearly as much. And the less a parent talks, the less their child’s brain develops.
Therefore, many experts recommend not having any talking toys or electronics until a child is at least two years old. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends ZERO screen time for children under 18 months. For children 18-24 months, they recommend only allowing screen IF a parent is with the child discussing what’s on the screen. The AAP asserts there is no such thing as educational TV for children under the age of two. They believe any type of screens could actually hinder the development of a child’s brain.
Lots of Play and Exploration
Children also need lots of time to play and explore their environment. Play is the natural way children learn. When children play, they learn problem solving, cause and effect, verbal skills, creativity, and physical coordination.
Babies don’t know anything about textures, shapes, smells, shadows, and weights—and they can’t learn that from a two-dimensional screen! They need three-dimensional hands-on exploration to learn about their physical world around them. And when babies reach for, rattle, and throw their toys around, they’re developing hand-eye coordination.
Keep the Toys Simple
When buying toys, look for toys where children have to put forth creative effort and use their imagination. (Often simple toys are the best.) Limit toys that stifle the imagination like electronic toys where the toy does everything, and essentially the children just watch it instead of playing with it.
To learn more about optimizing your child’s brain development, read Parenting with Focus by Katie Ely.