Baby development

7 best ways to grow your baby’s brain (you’re probably already doing them!)

Canadian paediatricians have updated their rules about how to promote early literacy and they're a reassuring pat on the back for new parents.

If you’re at home with your baby, you’re probably not hugely worried about abstract things like literacy quite yet, as you grapple with more immediate issues like feeding, crying and how to get more than four hours of sleep every night. (Not to mention the whole pandemic thing.)

And while experts do say that encouraging literacy starts from babyhood, the good news is that all the stuff they say parents should be doing from day one? You’re almost certainly already doing it. Good job, parents!

The Canadian Paediatric Society just updated its recommendations for doctors and nurses about how to advise new parents on encouraging literacy. While it’s full of great advice, reading it feels a bit like reading a list of things many parents do each and every day intuitively, just to pass the time or to enjoy a bonding moment with their baby.

To promote early language skills, the CPS says families can:

  1. Read, speak and sing to children in the language they are most comfortable with.
  2. Snuggle up to read a story, which can enhance attention, engagement and connection.
  3. Talk about surroundings when out and about (e.g., “Do you see the brown dog?”).
  4. Invite children to imitate an action in a picture.
  5. Use repetition to help children learn, internalize and re-create stories and songs.
  6. Use story time or songs to create routines at transitional times, such as bath time or bedtime.
  7. Use story time to replace some screen time in the home.

Put simply: the CPS simply wants parents to know that the simple acts of reading, speaking and singing to your kids every day helps develop early language skills.

Low literacy affects millions of Canadians, and is a higher predictor of lifelong health outcomes than both occupation and income. Every family, regardless of the parents’ comfort with reading, can help their baby develop early language skills. Babies’ brains grow when an adult lovingly responds to their babbles, gestures and cries.

“Every baby benefits from reciprocal interactions with caring adults, and every family has the ability to help their baby thrive,” says Dr. Alyson Shaw, author of the updated CPS guidance document Read, Speak Sing: Promoting early literacy in the health care setting.

Not every parent feels comfortable with their own literacy, particularly where multiple languages are being spoken in the home, but that shouldn’t discourage them. “Regardless of their own comfort with reading, parents and caregivers can help their children learn language by singing songs—which help them learn language structure and vocabulary—and by telling stories about their shared experiences throughout the day,” said Shaw, a paediatrician at CHEO in Ottawa.

If you’d like to sing your baby more lullabies but can’t recall the words to some of your old favourites, click here for lullaby lyrics for kids.

Need to build up your baby’s bookshelf? Here are the best Canadian kids’ books of all time, sorted by age of child.