That critical period of brain development – the first thousand days of life – has a crucial impact on how the rest of our little ones’ lives turn out. There’s no doubt, that children in an environment filled with lots of talking, reading and playing have better whole of life outcomes, compared to children that don’t.
So what does this mean for your newborn or young baby?
The first 12 months of life is a developmental period when there is a lot of neural change, shift and neurological growth. How can you give them the best possible start in life?
Here are my three top tips as a paediatric Speech Pathologist and Mum of three boys.
1) Sing a Nursery Rhyme
I know, that’s all we Speech Pathologists talk about. Nursery Rhymes.
But did you know that there’s a hierarchy of rhymes?
A basic nursery rhyme can be one of the best ways to develop oral language, working memory and auditory-listening skills in your young baby. A rhyme is so simple for even the youngest baby to start to attend to, and to store language, so it makes sense that it’s one of my top tips. And let’s face it, when we’re all sleep-deprived parents of newborns, a simple rhyme is hard to forget! We recommend starting with the Nursery Rhyme Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.
Remember, toddlerhood is just around the corner and you won’t have a baby forever! So all of that language load from the rhyme that you’re exposing them to during that first year of life, will make sense because they will understand it and it will be much easier for a little one to repeat and to express.
Think back to all of the daily routines that you do with your baby. Bath time, feeding and all of the usual household chores along, but also think about spending some time just sitting together and looking at each other, while you sing. Babies that are sung to and talked to regularly using lots of language load and big words, are SMARTER. As one recent study by the Lena Foundation published in the Journal of Paediatrics demonstrated. So start early because the more your young baby will ‘talk’, interact with you and understand big words, the more their language skills and cognition (smarts) will develop.
2) Daily Routines
Daily routines. Boring!
I hear you. Life with young children is tough and there is no more difficult period then when your little ones are babies, especially newborns. But our daily routines including; changing nappies, breastfeeding, washing, cleaning and preparing meals, are a great way to increase opportunities for lots of talking with your little one.
All of the talking that you do throughout your daily routines, will be stored and retained as your child grows into a verbal toddler, who will then use, repeat, ask questions and explore this language with you.
These daily routines are a part of everyday life so just talk to your baby as though they are much older. Talk about what you can see and what you are doing. Talk about the washing powder you’re emptying into the machine, or how dirty the clothes are that you’re putting in and talk about the food that you are preparing. Parents that talk to their babies all throughout the day, expose them to 1000-2000 more words every hour compared to their peers according to research by Hart and Risley. So get started today and TALK TALK TALK throughout your daily routines.
3) Playing Games
Play games with my young baby? YES definitely! Playing games with our babies is invaluable.
Not only are games an early bonding experience that gives our babies attachment and emotional security, games also stimulate brain development in that frontal lobe and build brain pathways for language in the speech-language centre, early.
As your baby grows and develops, they will play these early games with increased engagement, attention and increased language skills. Everything you do with your young baby – when repeated – becomes a daily part of your routine. Think Peek-a-Boo, Tickles, Bath-time play and Counting 1, 2, 3. Babies love intonation, melody and expression. Anything that is out of the ordinary, as these games will become simple and familiar language sequences that your little toddler will learn to express, as their verbal skills develop. All because you have been working on their working memory for language, since birth. But you’ve also been working really hard while at play, on another important area; the frontal lobe. By engaging in stimulating play and holding your baby’s attention and focus repeatedly, you are building the connectivity in this crucial part of the brain, so important for success at school but most importantly in life.
Again, think back to your daily routines and how you can introduce some play because this type of back and forth, or serve and return as they call it at the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, is the best type for brain development. Particularly because it stimulates not just the speech and language centre but also the frontal lobe of the brain. So PLAY. It’s as simple as that, because your baby’s brain will literally have more connections.