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2018 Aug

Build Your Baby's Brain

Calling all parents! We know you are super heroes in many ways, but did you know that decades of research confirm that parents have a critical impact on their children’s healthy development?                    

Think about it—in the first three years of life, a child’s brain grows to 80 percent of its adult size. By age five, it’s 90 percent. One million new neural connections form every second during the first three years, according to the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard.

These connections lay a critical framework for future learning, which means the first three years of a child’s life are an important brain-building window. And parents matter a lot.                  

Early talk is the strongest single predictor of cognitive development, kindergarten readiness, and school success. While words are good, conversational turns are much more important for stimulating neural development. Engaging in nurturing and affirming “back and forth” conversational turns helps build your child’s brain. Parents are brain builders by enriching their child’s vocabulary and promoting a love of reading.

The fact is children begin learning at birth and before they are able to use words. Research shows when you talk, read, sing, and play with your baby every day from birth it helps build your baby’s brain while also forming a close bond and a happier baby. We know it can feel weird reading and talking to a newborn baby who can’t yet understand the meaning behind the words, but the fact is they are learning.

It is never too early to start talking, reading, and singing with your baby. Starting now with a nurturing family routine of reading aloud every day from birth helps your baby feel safe, loved, and builds brain power. Your baby listens and learns the tones, sounds, and words of your language from the very beginning.

Introduce reading during your daily routines, such as bath time, meal times, dressing, and bed time. Try to read 10 minutes a day for each year of age of the child. Set the stage for reading by turning off the television and computer and make reading time family time.

Tips for Reading to Infants

• Babies love books with real pictures and bold contrasts.

• Make reading fun by using expressive facial gestures, varying your tone, and acting silly!

• Babies will look, listen and feel. Follow their lead and talk about what they are looking at.

• It’s OK if you don’t read the book word for word—just talk, read, touch, hug, and hold.

• Point to the pictures in the book and describe what you see with detail: “The red car is going zoom!”

• When babies smile, laugh, and coo they are communicating with you. Remember to respond back!

• Let babies explore sturdy board books by holding them, turning pages, and even tasting them. Yes, we know they will put the book in their mouths. Chewing books is normal, a sign of teething.

• Everywhere you go, talk about what you see and comment on what your baby is looking at or hearing. This helps them understand the world around them.

• Sing! Sing during morning routines, bath times, driving, and bed time.

Tips for Reading to Toddlers & Preschoolers

• Read daily throughout the day. Re-read favorite books, but introduce new books regularly to develop your child’s vocabulary.

• Make books available in a variety of places and within reach of your child: bedroom, living room, car, stroller, play room.

• Touch, hug, hold, and get down on your child’s level and make a personal connection.

• Point to the pictures, letters, and numbers in books. Ask open-ended questions as you share the books. “What do you see? What does that remind you of? Why did that happen? I wonder what will happen next?”

• Wait for your child to respond. Then repeat what the child says and add a little more.

• Let your child hold the book, turn the page, tell you the story. Be silly and make up stories also.

• Talk with your child about what you see throughout the day. Build talk into your daily routines such as meal time, getting dressed, bath time, playing outside, and bed time.

• Sing! During driving times, play times, bath time, etc. Sing songs with familiar tunes and hand gestures.

• Encourage them and be positive. Make reading fun!

As parents, you have bold goals for your children, and there are many community partners who want to connect and support you in achieving those goals. Communities committed to ensuring children have literacy-rich environments help parents develop a sense of confidence and efficacy. Visit your local library to utilize their book selection and see what programs they offer which support early literacy such as summer reading challenges, 1,000 Books before kindergarten, and story times.

Check your community for parent classes which help parents support reading and language development. Classes such as LENA Start® connect parents with simple-to-use techniques, take-home materials and books, and feedback from the LENA technology system on your home language environment. Remember, you have the power to build your baby’s brains!

For more information on LENA Start and upcoming classes, contact Virginia Beach GrowSmart at 757-385-0144 or vbgrowsmart@vbgov.com. 

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