New parents want to give their baby the best start in life, and a big part of supporting early baby brain development is stimulating your baby's brain. It might seem like a daunting task, but boosting your wee one's brain doesn’t need to be complicated, says Alyson Shaw, a paediatrician at Ottawa’s Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario—in fact, it can be a simple part of your new routine. Here are eight everyday activities that help your little one's development.
Feeding your little one isn't just great bonding time—it's also a great opportunity to get her brain working. “When babies are born they can focus on a mother’s face from the distance they are during breastfeeding,” says Shaw. When you’re feeding, you’re looking at your baby and the two of you are making facial expressions back and forth. Respond and repeat your little one’s coos to help her learn to form words and hold conversation. If you're bottle feeding, keep her nestled around the height of your chest to ensure she's close enough to focus on your face.
Let’s be honest: There isn’t too much you can do with your baby while you’re in the front seat focusing on the road, and your babe is staring at the upholstery on the back of the rear seat. But singing is a hands-free activity, and one that will greatly boost his baby brain development. “When parents sing to babies, they’re often singing with a lot of intonation, which is interesting for the baby," says Shaw. "Songs can introduce new words and repetitive patterns, which is important for language development. Singing also teaches babies about rhyming, which is important for later success in reading.” When you've had enough of the lullabies, sing him a little Beyoncé or Neil Young—he won't know the difference.
Changing a dirty diaper isn’t exactly every parent’s dream chore, but don’t dismiss it too quickly—it’s an ideal time to bring language into your baby's life, says Shaw. Talk to him about what you’re doing, and what you’re going to do next. “Babies can come to expect certain patterns to their day. If you’re changing your baby and sing a particular song, you’re building that into your day,” she explains.
It's not just bath time—it’s math and science time! Babies love to pour water from one container to another, and while your little one is happily playing in the tub, she’s also learning cause and effect, how gravity works and observing the volume of water, and “these are early math skills,” notes Shaw. Bath time also offers a great opportunity to interact with your babe: Sing songs while you’re soaping her up to help develop her language skills, and use the washcloth to play peekaboo—it'll help her learn about object permanence, or the awareness that objects continue to exist even when they can’t see them.
When you’ve got your babe in the cart, it might be tempting to keep him busy with a phone or tablet. Instead, Shaw suggests broadening his world. “Describe the sites, smells, shapes,” says Shaw. “Let the baby touch a kiwi, and show him how it feels different from an orange.” You can also call out colours, and count fruit and vegetables as you place them in a bag. And your babe will love a game of “Where did it go!” (and you'll love that he's learning object permanence) you plop items in the cart behind him.
There are so many things for your baby to see when you’re out for a walk, says Shaw. Point to things like the sky, trees and birds and name them, and boost baby brain development by using words to describe the rhythm of different terrain you’re going over: "This sidewalk is bumpy" and "The road is smooth." If your stroller can adjust so your baby is facing you, she’ll be able to watch your mouth while you’re forming words, which helps her learn to talk.
There’s a universal game babies play when they're in a high chair: Let me drop this food (or spoon, or cup, or toy) on the floor and see what happens! But it's not just a fun—it’s another chance to learn object permanence, says Shaw. She’s also working on her pincer grasp as she picks up small finger foods, an important fine motor skill. You can also use mealtime to teach your baby new concepts, like different textures, and to describe the difference between hot and cold.
Many parents include a bedtime story as part of the end-of-day routine, which is a great way to boost baby brain development, says Shaw. “Make time, right from birth, to read or just look at pictures in a book," she says. "You don’t need to read a story from beginning to end.” The bedtime routine is also a wonderful bonding time. “We know that when babies and children have a secure attachment, they learn best,” says Shaw. Then they fall asleep and the brain gets refreshed for another day of discovery and development.