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Brain development at a practical level

Sandy Swanson
Parent Talk

Not long ago my husband and I were blessed with a second grandson. I got to spend the week with both the baby and his 4-year-old brother. Although I read lots of articles about brain development, and all the new discoveries, just by watching them together, it really hit me what a tremendous amount of development occurs in a very short period of time.

Even before birth, a baby can hear the world around them. He is learning about his parents, siblings and anyone else who lives in the house. The sounds help prepare him for entry into the world. When our first grandson was born, his parents asked us to speak softly, and turn down the ringers on our cell phone. Baby number two doesn’t even flinch when his brother is his usually loud self, because he has heard those sounds for months.

Babies communicate through facial expressions, body movement, cries and making sounds. Every baby is a little different so it is important to observe and listen. Soon you can figure out what they are trying to say. If you make sounds in return, soon the two of you will be having a conversation. Babies love to hear the sound of your voice and are very receptive when you tell them a story, read a book, sing a song, or just converse about your day.

Play is the work of babies and young children. Remember, they have had very little sensory experiences in utero. They need to figure out the world by exploring everything. They do this by touching, eating, shaking stacking and banging. You can help them turn everyday experiences into a game. It’s a lot of fun to let the child take the lead.

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Our 4-year-old grandson loves child-directed play. He decides on the game and expects me to follow his lead. We have been playing together since he was born, building on past experiences of what he enjoys doing. We have great conversations during this special time because I always try to ask him something that gets him thinking, and he is starting to do the same with me. Everyone needs praise, especially children. You want to give children the opportunity to do things for themselves and receive praise for their actions. It also helps to add in a reason why this success was so good. “Great job, you figured out that puzzle all by yourself. You are going to be a math superstar.”

The first three years of life are a period of incredible growth in all areas of a baby’s development. A newborn’s brain is about 25 percent of its approximate adult weight. By the time that the child is 3 years old, the brain has grown dramatically by producing billions of cells and hundreds of trillions of connections. By using your observation skills and everyday experiences you can be an expert in stimulating brain development in babies and young children.

If you would like a little help with some more ideas and suggestions for play, call 945-1234, ext. 10 or visit our website http://www.familyvisitor.org. All Family Visitor Programs services are provided at no cost.

— Sandy Swanson, R.N., B.S.N., is executive director of Family Visitor Programs


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