Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors. They do not not reflect the opinions or views of Ovia Health.
Babies make one million neural connections every second the first three years of life …and the brain is forever after changing. By fostering a positive environment for your child during times of deep bonding and relaxation we can shape those connections, encouraging the development of deeper connections that create resilience – and it’s much easier than you think!
It’s called environmental enrichment, and we want the whole world to know about it. For us at healthynest, this all starts with safety and a safe space to create small moments of deep connection.
You can take advantage of many small everyday moments to do this: from a diaper change, to tummy time, you can try any of these five simple yet powerful enrichment activities for stimulation and growth.
Pick a sense, and engage with it: there will be times when you are playing with your baby, staring at each other, cuddling or chatting with gurgles and sounds. You will probably notice that they are focused in one of their senses. Take advantage of their interest: if it’s touch, put different kinds of nice feeling elements, ideally fabrics or materials on their body, including your own fingers, and engage though that particular sense of touch. If you notice they are paying attention to what they’re seeing, you might take a tiny little object and slowly just watch their eyes gaze and follow the object. Any one of these simple activities is going to help stimulate that baby’s ability to improve and grow that sense. There are so many different things that you can do to encourage sensory play by just thinking of what is already here, and creating a simple moment of sensory connection.
Engage in a conversation with your baby, even before they can speak: sound is an incredibly powerful way to connect with your baby. When you are talking to your infant, the way your voice sounds is already influencing the way their language grows. There’s something we naturally do as caregivers: it’s called “parentese”, when we speak in a high pitched sing-song voice. It sounds like baby talk to some people, but it’s grammatically correct. You’re not saying goo-goo gaga, you’re saying “hello, I’m so happy to see you. What’s this? Is this a dirty diaper? Let’s change your diaper!”. You are basically talking to your infant in different sing song patterns, and it’s exciting for them to hear. When that happens, they’re much more inspired to listen, and they’re watching your mouth looking at your eyes light up and your exaggerated facial expressions and they are learning language. And when you use that, you are doing something extraordinary for your child’s language development. It’s science, it’s not goofy sounding language. It engages the learner. The sounds of your voice combined with your facial expressions and using what is really truly grammatically correct is how humans learn language. And it’s true in every culture. It’s just so incredible that no matter what, we speak differently to infants and toddlers because we want to engage them and excite them, and that’s ultimately what’s going to grow their language.
Let your baby talk: anytime your baby makes any sounds, let them know that you’re listening to them because they’re actually practicing speaking. When infants begin to babble, it sounds like they’re having a real conversation. They’re imitating you and trying out the rhythm of conversations. And then finally they get to language that you understand and words that you understand and you expand those words and you help them make them bigger. You validate that you can hear them and that they should continue to try and speak and communicate.
Play peekaboo: it sounds like a simple game (and it is), but peekaboo actually plays a very important role in development. It helps your baby grasp what is called “object and person permanence”, to understand that things and especially people still exist when they’re out of sight. This will help tremendously to ease the natural anxiety that young babies feel if they do not see their parent being physically in the same room, as they start to understand that that does not mean they are gone. Diaper change is a great time to incorporate peekaboo in your everyday routines. You can do that by putting a diaper on top of an object and then lifting it up again, and you can hide behind the diaper or underneath your hands and popping up again. This game strengthens their understanding of object and person permanence and also helps them practice separation so that they learn that when you leave you always come back.
Listen to music without other distractions: it is common in homes to have music in the background, but when it comes to stimulating development, focusing your baby’s attention on the music versus having it as a secondary source of sound in the back, can have a powerful effect on their development. Listening to music while not doing other things, especially if you sing along to it, is a great way to engage your baby’s attention. Pick a song and make it yours, regardless of if you think it sounds silly: it has to be authentic. Kids’ songs make it easier because they have funny sounds and funny words to imitate. But any kind of music is going to help you lift the way your energy is and the expression in your voice. If you can, do it a few times in a row, because especially with toddlers repetition helps you learn words and memorize things.
Interested in finding new ways to connect with your little one? Click the link below for new ideas for each age and stage.
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- U.S. Department of Health & Human Services; National Institutes of Health; Speech and Language Developmental Milestones. NIH Publication No. 13-4781; Updated March 6, 2017
- American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, Speech, Language and Swallowing; Development Guidelines
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