Five simple and fun ways to build your baby’s brain
By Lisa Salmon
Looking after a baby can be exhausting and even nerve-racking at times – but it doesn’t have to be complicated.
Many parents wonder if they’re doing everything they can to boost their baby’s brain power and development, often not knowing where to begin after being swamped with advice from books and online.
Yet the reality is pretty simple, says the NSPCC, which is aiming to highlight the brain-building benefits that everyday moments such as singing and playing can have on babies and young children through tips in its Look, Say, Sing, Play campaign.
“We developed it for parents to use to help with their child’s development, after research found two-thirds of parents and expectant parents didn’t understand the brain-building benefits of two-way interaction,” explains Helen Westerman, NSPCC head of local campaigns.
She says all the tips are designed to be fun and focus around household items, aiming to help parents build their baby’s brain by getting them to recognise sounds, facial expressions, colours and repeating actions and words.
“The tips will also help parents strengthen the bond with their baby,” she says. “For example, looking at your child and making facial expressions will also enhance a loving and trusting relationship. After using the Look, Say, Sing, Play tips for a period of time, parents may see their child can now do activities such as singing or clapping more independently.”
And she adds: “They may be helpful for parents who’ve found the lockdown challenging as they’ve not been able to take their children to soft play centres and baby groups like they normally would.”
To get weekly tips, parents can sign up to an e-mail on the NSPCC website (nspcc.org.uk/keeping-children-safe/support-for-parents/look-say-sing-play). Each one includes a fun, age-appropriate tip which parents can easily fit in to their daily routine.
Some of the tips include…
1. Exercise Buddy
Invite your child to help you exercise. Hold them while you do sit-ups, first fast and then slow. Talk about your speed with them. Do leg lifts and raise your leg above their head then back to the ground, talking about their size as you do.
Brain building information: Exercise and other physical play deepens your relationship with your child, building the trust and love between you. Your loving relationship is fuel for their brain.
2. Do It Yourself Dress Up
Ask your child to make choices about what they want to wear. Give options like ‘Do you want to wear the white socks or the black socks?’. Be silly and ask ‘Will you wear them on your head? No!’. Encourage them to try getting dressed on their own and praise how hard they’re working.
Brain building information: This activity helps support your child in coming up with ways to manage their feelings. You’re helping them learn to use self-control in a hard moment. This ability is essential for learning, making friends, and problem solving.
3. Silly Suds
Get silly while getting clean! Tell your child you’re going to wash their hands, but start washing their feet. Then say: ‘Oh! Those are your feet! Where are your hands?’. As they get older, have them lead, using other parts of their body like elbows, wrists, and ankles.
Brain building information: Your child is using their focus to listen to your words and drawing on what they already know to play this silly game with you, which strengthens their memory. They’re also practising thinking flexibly about opposites, as well as learning new words and what they mean in a fun way.
4. Big Hug, Little Hug
When it’s time for a hug, ask your child if they want a big hug or a little hug and then do what they ask. Then you take a turn and say whether you want a big or little hug. You can add other words, like a wiggly hug or a quiet hug.
Brain building information: The sense of touch is calming and comforting to your child. These hugs not only make your relationship stronger, they also allow you to share new words and concepts with them, like big and little.
5. Peekaboo Many Ways
How many ways can you play peekaboo? You can hide your eyes behind your hand, or use a hat, a napkin, or whatever is handy and then say ‘Peekaboo!’. Help your child take a turn. What can they hide behind? Saying ‘I see you!’ when one of you stops hiding should make you both laugh.
Brain building information: This back-and-forth game builds the connection between you and your child. As they watch your face and movements, your child is learning to trust that things (and people) go away and come back. This is an important part of building relationships and becoming independent.