Baby Brain Connection

Parenting for Early Childhood Literacy

Handout for Parents and Caretakers

Dear Parents,
From the very minute that your precious child is born, you are your baby’s first teacher. New research shows that the 1st 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 1st year babies begin to use some words.   The time you have spent talking, playing and 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 1st year can help them become better learners throughout grade school and help them in later life too.

Some parents may be unsure about what to do with this information.  Others may be looking for ideas and support.  How can you, as a parent, best help your baby’s brain development during the 1st year?  This guide was created to help. All of the ideas and activities in the guide have been developed by child development specialists and then tried and tested by parents. 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!

Check out the website: Parents Guide for the 1st Year. Watch short videos, and get many more ideas and activities about how to talk, play & interact, and read with your babies.  All information is free and can be read, copied, or downloaded.

Examples of Activities

Keep 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. Talk to your baby throughout the day, point out things, and name them.  Children will 1) become used to language sound and patterns and 2) learn more words ….when you feed, play, dress, bathe, take walks, go to stores, and visit friends.  You can talk while playing and reading, too.
Baby Talk:  Babies are very responsive when you speak in a high pitched sound, slowly, and have expression. Talk slowly and use a playful, loving voice, and stretch out words and make your voice higher, but not necessarily louder. As you speak in “Parentese,” hold the baby near to your face and look directly into his eyes.  Say such things, “You are a special baby.” “Look at these ten little fingers and toes.” From time to time, vary the sound of your voice: high, low, singsong, soft.
Baby Face: Look at your baby’s face when you are talking. Be expressive: smile and make funny faces. Another activity is to point to each part of your child's face, tell your child about it, ("Your nose helps you breathe," etc.)
Repeating sounds and words:  Infants typically respond to repeated sounds.  They also repeat beginning sounds, whatever the language. So, while you are rocking or cuddling, repeat the same syllable over and over… ma, pa pa. Also, at 3-6 months, babies will start to make lots of sounds, which you can repeat. These simple sounds will later turn into words.  The more you repeat your baby’s sounds, the more your baby will be encouraged to make more sounds.

Playing & Interacting
Farm Animals: Children learn language concepts through play. Infants seem to be fascinated with animals in books and when seen. (Toys, pictures in books, or photos of farm animals can be printed from the computer.) Introduce farm animal figures to your infant. Show each animal to your infant. Name the animal and make the sound of each.
Infant Moves:  Infants seem to be in constant motion when awake. Put a blanket on the floor. Lay your infant on the blanket. Observe how your infant moves. Talk to your infant about the moves, "You are moving your legs."
Rhythm: When babies respond to sights and sounds, encourage the movement of her legs, arms, or head while supporting her. You can also move her arms and legs in larger motions including crossing over the body.  It is believed that movement activities release neurotransmitters in the brain that activate memory.

Begin reading to children early: Mother Goose rhymes and songs stimulate language and listening.
Picture books: Select books with short sentences and simple illustrations. Boldly colored picture books with simple words arouse children’s curiosity and visual sense.
Select baby-friendly topics: Choose books about animals, routines (bedtime, getting dressed), food or books with many simple, bright illustrations and few words. Talk about what you see on each page and don’t worry about following a narrative.
Make reading aloud a daily activity: Reading aloud is one of the best activities to stimulate language and cognitive skills; it also builds motivation, curiosity, and memory. 
See, touch, and feel: Research shows that brain areas controlling vision and sensory integration are the first to develop. So early on, try books that have fur and other textures, bright colors, or those that squeak, rattle and crinkle, crunch, jangle, or make music.
Books taste good: Infants explore with their mouths — it’s fine for a young child to hold the book and put it in his mouth. A book becomes an everyday object he feels comfortable playing with, rather than an off-limits treat.