According to zerotothree.org, “a child’s brain undergoes an amazing period of development from birth to three—producing more than a million neural connections each second”. While the human brain continues to develop and change into adulthood, it’s these early years that are most sensitive for brain development and where the brain is most malleable — in other words, it’s during this stage of life that the brain is most receptive to learning. The quality of the experiences and interactions that your baby is exposed to during these first three years can therefore have a significant impact on how their brain is shaped, and how they ultimately communicate and relate in the world. Knowing this, parents can be empowered to ensure they’re spending time immersing a baby into constructive experiences and activities that stimulate healthy brain development—an investment that will shape your baby and their skills for life.
Why is brain development in babies important?
The human brain continues to develop and change into adulthood, however according to the Centres for Disease Control, it is the first 8 years which form the foundation for future learning, health and life success. Your baby’s future relationships, problem solving abilities as well as emotional control all depend on how the people closest to them interact with your baby on a daily basis.
How do you know your baby's brain is healthy?
There are a few tell-tale signs that a baby’s brain is healthy:
Your baby calms down when they see or hear you
They are able to focus on your movements and interactions for a short period of time each day and will react by making eye contact (this is only possible after your baby is 1 month old)
They will react to interesting sounds after the first month by looking at the source
Your baby should start to show an interest in bright colours and patterns around 2 months of age
However, if your baby isn’t meeting the recommended milestones, or if you think that something might be wrong with your baby’s vision, hearing, communicating, behaviour, movement or growth, contact your doctor to ensure that there aren’t any underlying issues.
What factors influence baby brain development?
The best way for a child to learn any skill is to firstly observe those around them doing it and then to mimic this behaviour and learn how to master the skill on their own. What this means though is that if the baby is exposed to and observing signs of stress, anger, or trauma, or observing negative behaviours or habits, their development can be negatively impacted.
Talking, playing and reading all stimulate brain growth and form a strong healthy bond between your baby and the people closest to them. If you want to get some suggestions of brain development activities for babies, now that you are at home all the time, we’re here to help. Below we’ve outlined some activities you might explore at different ages.
Newborns are highly stimulated by everything. The play of light through the leaves on the trees. The way your face changes when you smile. The sound of a sibling's voice from another room. The world is big and bright and everything is new. There isn’t a lot that you need to do to stimulate your baby's brain at this age!
That said, young babies like high contrast images. Black and white, block colours, simple shapes, as well as household objects to touch, explore and mouth. These are all great for stimulating curiosity and interest in the world around them.
Speak to your baby as much as possible. Explain to them what you are doing when you change their nappy and pull an over the top facial expression. They will love hearing your voice and learning to recognise the tone and its link to your different facial expressions.
As your baby grows and spends more time awake, activities like tummy time will be more fun. Young babies learn so much from interacting with the people and things around them. You’ll often find them more interested in a whisk over a baby toy, so don’t forget to offer safe household things for your baby to play with.
You can also start reading to young babies, looking at picture books together, and reading short stories. Although they won’t necessarily understand what you’re saying, they will start to pick up the cadence of speech, which is useful for when they do learn to talk. Sami offers some great tips on Instagram about reading to your baby: occasionally face your baby so that they can see your expression while you read; invite them to help you turn pages; speak in parentese - vary the pitch and speak slowly.
So much happens during these months! Many babies learn to sit up, crawl, and sometimes walk before they are 1 year old! Keeping a 6-12 month old entertained is more about keeping up with their very short attention span. In this time when they are learning and mastering so much, it’s hard for them to keep to one thing for longer than a few minutes.
At this age, it’s important to offer your baby lots of opportunity for gross motor movement as well as stimulating their brains. Look at your home, and see what can be placed at eye level so that your baby is encouraged to reach for or see it. This can encourage them to crawl, pull up to stand, and walk.
Then, you can keep reading to your child, talking to them, letting them hang out with you while you hang and fold laundry. All of these chores are interesting to babies! One heavily favoured gift for one-year-olds is a broom and other cleaning equipment. Toddlers love to clean!
Kirsteen has some fantastic baby activities on her Instagram page that will assist your baby with developing a variety of skills. A really fun one to try is to cut some holes in a box (different sizes can make it a bit more challenging) and give your little one some colourful balls to put inside the holes. These sorts of activities can keep babies busy for a long time.
One thing many parents misunderstand is their role in the parent-child dynamic. As a parent of a child of any age, it isn’t your role to entertain your child. It is your role to provide an environment where they are safe to explore and find safe entertainment for themselves.
For a small baby, that may only be for a few minutes at a time doing one activity, but that’s developmentally completely normal. The older the child gets, the longer their attention span grows to allow them to focus on their own self-directed play for longer.
Do you have a brain development activity to share? Head on over to our Snuza Mama + Me Facebook Group and tell us all about it.
1. 7 Ways to Help Your Child's Brain Develop: https://www.healthline.com/health-news/5-free-ways-to-improve-your-childs-brain#Go-big-or-little
2. 20 Ways to Boost Your Baby's Brain Power: https://www.scholastic.com/parents/family-life/creativity-and-critical-thinking/learning-skills-for-kids/20-ways-to-boost-your-babys-brain-power.html
3. 29 Surprising ways you can give your baby's brain a major boost: https://www.parent24.com/Baby/Development/29-surprising-ways-you-can-give-your-babys-brain-a-major-boost-20180315
4. Early brain development and health:
5. 8 signs of a healthy baby