By Robert Titzer, Ph.D.
1. Use Multi-Sensory Learning
When your child shows an interest in a particular topic, try to help her learn about it using as many sensory systems as possible. If your child is interested in learning about flowers, let him see, smell, touch, and even hear the gentle sound the flower makes brushing against his ear. This type of learning is usually more interesting for the child, and more effective because of new brain connections that could form to and from several sensory areas of the brain.
2. Describe Your Baby’s Senses While Talking
Talk as much as you can to your baby. The number of words spoken to your child in the early years has a lasting impact on your child’s later vocabulary. Initially, use simple, descriptive sentences to narrate what is happening. Talk about what your baby is seeing, hearing, touching, smelling, or tasting. Gradually, include more adjectives to make the sentences even more descriptive.
3. Respond to Your Baby
An important skill for parents is the ability to respond to the interests of your infant. This will help your baby more easily understand his or her world. Pay particularly close attention to your baby. If your baby is looking at her toes, she could be told, “These are your toes.” This means the infant would simultaneously have visual (seeing her toes), auditory (listening to you say “these are your toes”), and haptic (feeling you touch her toes) information. This helps a young baby develop a very elaborate idea of “toes”. These types of “responsiveness” activities may also increase intelligence. Add written language by writing down the word ‘toes’ while your baby is touching her toes. Say, “toes” while pointing to the word from left to right. The key is to be responsive to your baby. Every time you notice your baby touching her toes, do similar activities. Frequently respond to your baby’s interests on a wide range of topics.
A fundamental building block for intelligence is the ability to categorize. You can stimulate your child by grouping animals or objects that are similar. For instance, your child’s toys or clothes could be grouped by color, size, shape, material, or function. Simply show them and say, “This is a sock and this is a sock. This is not a sock.” Your baby should enjoy the activity because he will be able to see you sort the clothing, hear your voice, touch the soft clothing, and smell the clean clothes. You can also organize the same objects in different ways. For example, you could sort them by color the first time and by shape the second time.
We will have more information on this important topic later.
5. Improve Spatial Reasoning Abilities
Studies show that infants who self-locomote using a walker improve their spatial abilities 1 as well as attention.2 This improvement may be a result of infants’ increased attention to objects when they self-locomote rather than being carried. Pediatricians recommend that parents not use walkers for safety reasons; however, in safe conditions, a walker can help improve your infant’s spatial abilities. When you are carrying your baby, it’s similar to being a passenger in a car where you don’t necessarily have to pay as much attention to where you are going. When your baby is in a walker, then she is more like the driver. Your baby needs to remember more spatial information in order to get to where she wants to go.
If you use a walker, watch your baby at all times and baby-proof your entire home. Block any staircase and put any potentially dangerous objects completely out of your baby’s reach. Please make sure that you adjust the height of the walker for your baby.
Reading simple maps and playing with mazes can also improve your toddler’s spatial reasoning abilities.
Please check back for more tips on improving spatial thinking.
6. Learn a Second Language
It is easier for a young child to learn a second language at a high level than it is for adults. Some parents think they need to wait until their child has mastered one language before starting a second language. However, babies who are learning two languages learn as many patterns in their first language as babies who are only learning one language. This is one reason why it is better to learn second languages earlier – infants are great at figuring out patterns of languages.
7. Respond to Your Infant’s Sounds
Infants have many thousands of new synapses – or brain connections – forming each second. Your baby doesn’t remember all of them equally. According to a theory of brain development3, the strength of the synapses can be changed by having some value attached to them.
You can attach a value to a synapse. For example, if you respond excitedly to your baby’s new language sounds and repeat the sounds back to your baby, then the connection to make that sound will have some value to the infant and it will likely be strengthened. On the other hand, if the infant makes a new sound and no one responds – the baby will be less likely to repeat that sound. Not only does the infant probably feel more attached to caregivers who respond to their sounds, but they can learn to make more sounds when people respond.
8. Make Learning Videos for Your Child
You can make learning videos for your infants and toddlers. Be sure to include your family in the videos. This will attract your child’s attention. This is great for military families or other families where a parent is away for long periods of time. Make the videos as educational as you can. You may want to include your child’s name and the words for ‘mommy’ and ‘daddy’ in your video.
9. Play Games!
Matching games are fun. Show your toddler one item, for example a tennis ball. Next, show your child several other objects and ask him to find the one that matches the first object. Talk with your child throughout the game and describe how the objects are the same or different. These fun games help the child learn more about object properties such as color, material, function, shape, etc. Do physical actions and ask how the actions are the same or different. For example, after taking large steps and describing what you are doing, take small steps, slow steps, fast steps, high steps, or low steps and encourage your toddler to imitate you. Talk and ask questions about what you are doing.
10. Use Different Postures During Play
Allow your infant to play while in different postures and locations. Make soft, clean, safe areas for your baby to play while on her stomach, back, and seated. Set up these play spaces in different locations. Babies may practice lifting their heads or rolling over while on their stomachs. While on their backs, infants may play with activity gyms, practice rolling, or look at objects. It may be easier for infants to explore toys while in a bouncer. Always carefully observe your baby while playing.
It can be easy to get in a habit of doing the same activities over and over. Simply by switching postures, you have changed the environment for your baby and you will be providing additional stimulation.
1 Kermoian R., Campos J. J. (1988). A facilitator of spatial cognitive development. Child Development. 59, 908–917.
2 Campos J. J., Anderson D. I., Barbu-Roth M. A., Hubbard E. M., Hertenstein M. J., Witherington D. (2000). Travel broadens the mind. Infancy 1, 149–219.
3 Edelman, G. M. (1987). Neural Darwinism: The theory of neuronal group selection. New York, NY, US: Basic Books.