From the very minute that your precious child is born, you are your baby’s 1st teacher.
Research shows that the first year of life is a critical period in helping infants become aware of language. Your baby’s brain is developing rapidly. His brain is making many connections as he learns about his world. Every time you talk, touch, cuddle, rock, sing, or read to him, you are helping his brain develop. Does this surprise you? It’s a fact. Although he may not understand the words, your baby will slowly begin to make connections between words and their meaning.
By the end of the first year, babies begin to use some words. The time you have spent talking, playing, interacting and reading to your child will provide a strong foundation for his learning to talk and then learning new words as he grows. These skills will better prepare your child for successful learning in preschool and kindergarten. There is even evidence that talking to babies in the first year can help them become better learners throughout grade school and help them in later life, too.
How can you, as a parent, best help your baby’s brain development during the first year and at the same time develop his literacy? Here are some suggestions developed by child development specialists and then tried and tested by parents to help you and your baby reach their developmental goals. Many more Talking, Playing & Interacting, and Reading activities are found in a free Parents Guide for the 1st Year on the website: www.babybrainconnection.org.
Brain Development: Stimulating early experiences lay the foundation for later learning. Through repetition, brain connections become permanent…if a connection isn’t used at all or not often enough, it is not likely to survive.
Talking: Talk to your infant about everything you do when you are together. “I am taking you to the kitchen.” “I am changing your diaper.” Talk about what you are doing, what your child is doing and what your child sees… when you feed, play, dress, bathe, take walks, go to stores, and visit friends. Point out things and name them. Use “Parentese,” a sing-song speech that has a higher pitch, slower tempo, and exaggerated facial expressions. Babies love it; their brains are “mapping” the sounds they are hearing, and talking in a way that gets their attention helps them learn to speak and understand language.
Playing & Interacting: Children learn language concepts through play. The “serve and return” interaction between parent and baby – in which 1) young children naturally reach out for interaction through babbling, facial expressions, and gestures, and 2) adults respond with the same kind of vocalizing and gesturing back at them – builds and strengthens brain architecture and creates a relationship in which the baby’s experiences are affirmed and new abilities are nurtured.
Reading: Begin reading to children early, and make reading aloud a daily activity. Mother Goose rhymes and songs stimulate language and listening. Select picture books with short sentences and simple illustrations. Choose books about animals, routines (bedtime, getting dressed), or foods. Talk about what you see on each page and don’t worry about following the actual story.
There is nothing here that you can’t do. You are your child’s first teacher, and probably the most important. Enjoy teaching your baby — all the learning activities are easy, fun to do, and free!
Harriet is the founder of the Goldin Foundation for Excellence in Education, www.goldinfoundation.org. Since 1991, the Goldin Foundation has recognized outstanding educators for their outstanding contributions to classrooms, schools, and communities. It currently works with 85 school districts across the country. The Foundation and its many educators believe that the data on early brain development is so compelling that parents must be provided with encouragement, support, and activities to foster children’s literacy skills long before they enter school. They support “Baby Brain Connection: Parenting for Early Childhood Literacy.” For more information, go to www.babybrainconnection.org.