Building a better brain in babies
The early years of life are vital for laying the foundation of learning success. Most parents get it right – and that’s because it isn’t as difficult as you might think.
I get lots of enquiries from people wanting to know what programmes to buy or what activities to do with their infants to ensure good brain development. The reason is that they want their children to do well at school and in good tertiary institutions so that they will enjoy a lucrative career later in life. While their motivation is pure, they are often trying too hard to stimulate their children. Expensive equipment, costly academic packages and too-early school admittance simply aren’t needed. Instead, providing lots of love and spending lots of time playing games and talking to your babies while ensuring that their diet is as good as you can afford are the ingredients for a healthy brain.
The brain is very underdeveloped at birth. This is because human mothers could not give birth to an infant with a fully developed brain – it would simply be too big. So from the moment of birth, everything in the infant’s environment will impact on the development of the neurons (brain cells) that comprise the brain. Genetics do play a role in intelligence – but the nurturing received after birth is vital. In his book ‘Raise a smarter child by kindergarten’, Dr David Perlmutter writes that ‘great brains are made, they are not born. From birth to age 3, up to 30 IQ points are up for grabs.’
He goes on to list some simple things that parents can do to ‘claim’ those IQ points for their child:
Breastfeeding for at least twelve months
- Making sure your toddler eats brain-enhancing ‘real’ food
- Engaging your baby in mentally stimulating activities from the first weeks of life throughout childhood – not with artificial or ‘educational’ media but simply through games you play with her. Think ‘Peek a boo’; ‘Where’s mommy gone?’; singing songs and telling or reading stories
- Limit TV and DVD watching and playing video games
- Training a child to use a computer, however, can improve cognitive function and better prepare her for school
- Introduce youngsters to formal music training by aged 4 years. This helps develop future future maths and science ability
- Be aware of possible toxins in your home and environment that may cause learning problems (pollution being one)
- Provide a warm, loving, low-stress environment with lots of attention from you
In the next few articles, I’ll be focusing on what happens in a baby brain when we provide a nurturing environment and also on good, brain-building activities.