Everything! Everything starts earlier than you think! Your baby’s ability to recognize you from other adults, your baby’s ability to communicate effectively, your baby’s vocabulary building—it all starts much earlier than you think. Birth to age five is the period of life during which the brain develops most rapidly. A healthy infant’s brain forms 700 synapses per second! Synapse development is crucial as they are the pathways of the brain —the wiring— that allow the brain to carry out all of its critical functions.
The Critical Window
Everything that happens to and around your child in her first days, months and years will contribute to the growth of her brain, the development of her language skills and her basic approach to life. When an infant is nurtured from the start, by a responsive, attentive caregiver that provides a safe environment, constant care and stimulation, her chances for developing healthy mental, emotional and social skills are increased. You have probably heard it said:babies are born learning. It is true. Research shows us that a six-month-old baby that is not yet talking, but that is indeed listening to the parents, siblings and other adults around her, is building the connections in the brain that are responsible for her being able to speak and later to read.
Your Critical Role
By responding to your child’s cries in a comforting tone, holding him, talking directly to him, you are building a foundation for positive growth and development. You will wait in great anticipation of his first word as one of the markers that he’s developing just fine. His new words will be a reflection of your words, so what you say matters. What you say, how you say it and how often you say it all matter. Scientific evidence confirms that how much parents and caregivers talk to their babies is critically important to their ability to acquire new words and use them. However, having a constant conversation that appears to be one way—can be challenging. Adults are used to dialogue, not monologue. Talking and reading with your newborn can feel like just-one-more-thing-to-do on your sleep-deprived new parent list. Here are some ideas to make the experience richer for you and your child as he grows:
- Baby in your belly: Simply read aloud. It doesn’t have to be a baby book, rather your night-time novel, non-fiction read or your go-to magazine. He is learning to recognize your voice and is building his vocabulary in utero. It truly does start this early.
- Baby in your arms: She can point and grab now, so board books that hold up to her tiny mitts are great. Let her turn the page (she’ll probably try to put it in her mouth) and respond to her directly as she points to pictures. She is communicating with you.
- Baby in your lap: Your toddler loves predictable stories. By reading stories that have a rhythmic flow, he will listen to the patterns in your voice and learn the story. “Not in a box. Not with a fox. Not in a house. Not with a mouse…I do not like green eggs and ham. I do not like them, Sam-I-am!” It’s fun every single time.
- Child at your side: Let her see you read. From print to Kindle, she’ll understand what you are doing. Your love of reading fosters hers. It’s that simple.
So, at the start of the day, during the middle of the night, and every moment in between, pick up your baby and talk to her. Read, share and point. She is listening—and that big brain of hers is taking every word in. To learn more about supporting your baby’s development and access tools to help you do just that, visit the Ounce of Prevention Fund Parent Resource page.
About the Ounce of Prevention Fund
Since 1982, the Ounce of Prevention Fund has persistently pursued a single goal: that all American children—particularly those born into poverty—have quality early childhood experiences in the crucial first five years of life. The Ounce is demonstrating effective solutions every day. Our work is anchored in a growing body of scientific evidence about early brain development. We create and implement innovative programs; educate and coach early learning practitioners; provide parents tools and support; and advocate for public investments and policies. Follow us on Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter.
This post is sponsored by the Ounce of Prevention Fund.