article: Resources for building babies' brains, including
suggested activities, books, and other products.
breakthrough brain research in the last couple of decades, there
has been a lot of talk about how babies learn, and the importance
the first 3 years of life have on the development of intellectual,
social, and emotional skills. Right on cue, products designed to
enhance learning that are based on our new knowledge of how babies
learn have surfaced, some with very big and loud claims. Is it all
hype, or is there something to these claims?
experts seem to think that the answer is "yes", there is
something to these claims, but within reason. Much of the
research has simply proven what most mothers have known all
alongthat certain natural motherly instincts, like talking to
and frequently hugging babies and young children, in fact have a
long-lasting effect on a person's outlook and personality. But
other facts have been revealed that have shown us some truly
fascinating concepts. For example, it would be natural to think that
kids learn language skills when they start to do the most talkingat 2 and 3 years oldbut in fact, most of the connections in
the brain that "wire" language are formed in the first year.
general idea is that babies are born with billions of nerve cells
called neurons, and that connections (called synapses) between
these neurons are formed through every experience the baby hasevery sight, sound, touch,
and so forth. However, if a baby is not
stimulated these synapses simply do not occur or develop, or are
Additionally, connections that are used often become permanent,
and those that are not used sufficiently often will die.
"Windows of opportunity" is a buzz phrase these daysessentially, these are time periods when parts of the brain are at
their peak of development. These time periods represent optimal
times for learning specific skills. It only makes sense to use
this information to help our babies get a head start in life with
rich intellectual capabilities. The bottom line of most of the
brain research so far is that early experience actually
shapes the development of the brain.
and more studies are emerging. One recent study, for example,
showed that a stimulating environment early in life and then
continued learning may help protect the brain from
degenerative diseases later in life and help it to repair and
re-grow damaged cells. Another revealed that pregnant women who
increase their intake of omega-3 fatty acids generally give birth
to babies with advanced attention spans, and that babies whose
diets are high in these dietary fatty acids may have a distinctive
edge in early developmental skills (read the full story here).
Yet another study revealed that early musical training affects the
way we think (read the full story here).
From birth, babies are rapidly learning about their environment
through love and touch. The power of touch, which can include loving touches, massage,
holding babies frequently, and plenty of hugs, is
extraordinary. Studies show that babies who are infrequently
held and touched actually have smaller brains.
The equation "play=learning" applies here. Babies learn through
play. Talk to baby often, "converse" with baby, sing to him or her,
encourage exploration and play, listen to music with baby. Offer
toys of different shape, texture, and weight, and a variety of
toys or objects that do different things. Build trust by being
attentive to baby, and play peek-a-boo to prove that people can go
away, but they come back. Build baby's self-esteem by responding
to him or her, and baby's body image through loving touch and
naming of body parts. Some level of routine helps to build baby's
sense of security. Adjust to baby's moods so that you neither
over- or under-stimulate. Be responsiveand clear in your
responsesto baby's coos, babble, moods, and
"requests". Be particularly mindful that you are
incorporating each sense into activitiesthis doesn't have to
be all at once, of course, and is in fact better in the early
stages if you
concentrate on a sense for each activity: visual, sound, touch,
smell, taste, and also movement. Remember
that babies are learning about their bodies and how to control
them, and interaction is a powerful form of play and learning.
Prenatal nutrition and early nutrition are essential. Omega-3
fatty acids and choline are crucial, and the avoidance of drugs,
cigarettes, and alcohol essential as well.
are plenty of products on the market designed to encourage and
stimulate brain development. Probably the best ones we've seen are
books on the subject of building babies' brains. These feature
brain-building activities and tips.
The Products - Books for Parents
There are some wonderful books on
the market designed for parents that offer advice and suggested
activities that will help stimulate brain growth and development.
One such book is entitled Brain Under Construction and is an excellent reference and guide. Focusing on
babies aged 8-18 months old, the author William Staso presents
plenty of theory as well as practical suggestions of activities
that parents can do with their babies that will directly stimulate
brain growth. One of the nice things about this book is that the
suggested activities can be done by anyone without the purchase of
fancy equipment or toys (in fact, excessive use of toys is
discouraged). This is excellent reading.
Staso reasons that manipulation of
"real" items have much more power in terms of
development of the brain than toys. For example, the idea of a
child learning that if he turns a knob on a toy, an object will
pop up is not as powerful as the idea of turning a doorknob to
enter a room.
Throughout the book there are real-life
examples of babies and their development. Staso presents
a list of concepts that he feels are valuable to
teach babies 8-18 months (for example, the more obvious concepts
of up/down, in/out, off/on, etc., and even less obvious ones like
center/edge and more/less) and presents real-life practical
activities that will help a child learn them. He emphasizes
teaching babies basic science concepts like placing an item at the
top of a ramp to see what will happena toddler will see how a
ball and a banana react quite differently. Another example
activity involves taking tours around the house that get
increasingly more organized ("let's find all the places where
there is water") as children develop. Staso suggests
activities that demonstrate the meaning of the words
"who", "where", and "what", and even
the more complex concepts of "why" and "how".
An appendix discusses academic readiness and the expectations for
a child entering Kindergarten in terms of his or her understanding
of basic concepts. The book clearly helps a parent to lay a solid
foundation for learning these concepts.
I have used many of the
suggestions from this book and found them to be extremely
practical and realistic. The activities are simple yet powerful,
and it is evident that Staso actually worked with real babies
before presenting his findings. The book got me thinking and
inspired me to extend the activities beyond the 18 month period.
After reading Brain Under Construction, never will I look at
babies' play the same way! It is well-written,
easy to understand, and clearly
organized so that if you want to skip the theory and go
right to the practical applications, it is easy to do so. Also,
the 10 month period is further divided into 8-12 months and 13-18
months (which is logicalan 8 month old child's abilities are
dramatically different than an 18 month old child's aptitudes). An
important theme throughout the book is an emphasis on having fun
with your child, and cautions about over-stimulation (quantity of
arranged experiences is not as important as their quality).
Another book by the same author,
Neural Foundations: What Stimulation Your Baby Needs to Become Smart : Birth Through 7 Months, focuses
on the birth through seven months stage of development. A smaller
window here, definitely, but practical advice and suggested
activities are included. We wish both books were combined,
however. I believe that if you are going to read only one of these
books by Staso, read Brain Under Construction.
What's Going on in There? : How the Brain and Mind Develop in the First Five Years of Life
is a fantastic book for those parents who want to know all the
details about how their babies' minds develop, and how important
their role is in nurturing their child. Written by a research
neuroscientist and a mother, What's Going on in There? addresses
such things as prenatal factors that shape brain development,
the birthing process affects the brain, specific stimulating
activities that promote development of cognitive skills, the effects of stress on children's brains, and more.
Baby Signs: How to Talk with Your Baby Before Your Baby Can Talk, New Edition
is a well-loved book that introduces parents to the concept of
signing with their babies in order to improve their ability to
communicate, reduce the stress of not being understood, and
improve their ability to use language effectively when they do
begin to speak.
Unless used immoderately, videos
and DVDs for babies can be great fun. If parents are involved
they can use videos as a means of talking about objects, colors,
and more with their children, and both of their hands are free to
hold their baby or cuddle up as they do so. Although many videos
designed for babies suggest they can be used for babies under 9
months old, we suggest holding off until at least that age.
We list our favorite baby
On the Web
There's nothing like free advice and information. While there
are incredible amounts of information on the web on the subject of
brain development in babies, I've found a few particularly
interesting pages for your info:
One of the best articles that rounds up some of the most
essential information about early experiences and their effects on
learning is the following news report: http://www.cincypost.com/news/brainchild/news_brain4primer.html.
presents a wealth of information about child development.
Development Institute site offers information about different
stages of development, including intellectual, physical, language,
At the Baby Center Resource Center you'll find lots of useful
Here you'll find an image of a child's brain. Simply click on the
area of the brain to find more information about whenand howthat part of the brain develops.
Striking a Balance
One thing we do
know for certain is that babies have much more going on
in those adorable little heads than we knew before. The research
adds yet another huge responsibility to the long list parents
already have, which may make some parents feel nervous. Being
aware of the studies is important, but overdoing infant
stimulation will have the opposite of the desired effect.
According to the book "Brain Under Construction" by
William Staso, stress has a negative impact on brain growth in
Experts also caution parents
to strike a balancebabies and young children need peace and
quiet, or "down" time, for healthy development. Stimulating
a child's brain is one thing, but overdoing it would be silly. We
don't want our children to grow up overanalyzing life. We want
them to be emotionally healthy and balanced.
The best thing about the products recommended
above is that they don't overdo their claimsthey emphasize
parental involvement as a key factor in the development of babies'
brains, and rightfully so.
More to explore
at Edutaining Kids:
Kids the Alphabet This article discusses some activities
and products most recommended for teaching kids to distinguish the
distinct shapes of each and every letter of the alphabet.
a Learning-Rich Home Learning Environment It's easy and
inexpensive to create a home environment that is rich with
educational opportunities for your young children. Children learn
through play, and learning is best when all of a child's senses
Your Own Baby Videos While there are plenty of fun baby
videos available for purchase, those families with the time and
inclination (and a camcorder!) might consider taking on a very
creative and exciting family project: making their very own,
homemade and personalized baby video.
for Homemade Play Dough We offer two recipes for making
playdough (clay) at home: one superior long-lasting dough, and
another quick and basic recipe for play dough.
& Toddler Guide to Fun & Learning
ABCs and 123s Videos
Article by Stephanie Heese