The human brain is an amazing thing, and more amazing still, is just how much of our brain development takes place when we can’t even walk yet. Infancy marks one of the most important times for cognitive development, and research shows that one of the most important things you can do as parents is to create an environment for your child that is both nurturing and stimulating. (Sloan)
During this period of a child’s life massive amounts of connections are being made in the brain and synapses are being formed at a very fast rate. Synapses are the structures in the brain that allow neurons to pass messages from one cell to the next. Every action we make is capable only because of this process and infancy marks a “critical period” where the brain does its own type of pruning in a sense. Synapses are being formed rapidly, but if neural connections aren’t made, then no messages will pass through that synapse and the brain will mark it as useless. (Huttenlocher) As far as the brain is concerned, “you use it or lose it.”
Your child takes in the world around them through a combination of sensory and motor experiences and it is important for you to give them as much stimulation as possible because connections that do not get made early enough will be lost forever. Naturally, with so much going on in that brain it is important for parents to create the best possible environment for their infants to promote the stimulation necessary to fuel their child’s cognitive development. (Sloane) But how exactly does one go about creating an environment for their child that will be successful and effective? I have listed here a few easy steps you can take as parents to create a great environment for your children.
1. Be emotionally and verbally responsive.
Simply talking to your child can do wonders, and even if they might not understand you yet, they are taking in every single thing you do. Smile at your baby and show an active interest in their emotions and expressions.
2. Engage in play with your child.
Don’t be afraid to be silly! Play peek-a-boo, crawl around on the floor, and make funny faces. Your baby will benefit from it, and so will you.
3. Encourage your child to explore their environment.
Babies love to get into everything, and it can be very tempting at times to constantly tell them no and pull them away, but simply try to safe-proof the house a little bit, and actually let them explore the environment around them.
4. Provide a variety of safe and appropriate play materials.
Children learn through their senses and experiences, so providing plenty of materials they can touch and manipulate is a great thing to do. Anything coming in sets of different colors and sizes is a good option to choose. Just make sure nothing is too small to avoid a choking hazard.
5. Read to your child often.
Infancy is a critical time for the acquisition of language, and all those sounds they hear you making, they’ll start to imitate themselves. Reading to your child can help with this, and will engage your child’s mind as well.
Babies can be a little intimidating at times, but if you follow these guidelines, your baby will be well on their way to a happy and healthy life.
Hottenlocher, P.R (1984) Elimination and neural plasticity in human cerebral cortex, Threats to optimal development, 27, 39.
Sloan, S. Stewart, M. Dunne, L. (2010) The effect of breastfeeding and stimulation in the home on cognitive development tin one year olds, Child care in practice, 16, 102.