The human brain is amazing. It starts developing in the womb and keeps on growing as the child starts to form more complex thoughts.
Intelligence may be inherited, but brain development can be supported, enhanced, and optimized. As parents, we try our best to promote cognitive growth so that children hit their cognitive milestones on time. The good news is, we can do this in different ways.
Studies say that the first three years of life are critical to brain development. So what can you do to encourage it?
Proper nourishment is certainly imperative. However, besides giving them the best brain food, what other efforts can we make as parents, and which other areas can we explore, to support cognitive development during nursery or early years education?
You can use music to help children learn several things, from letters and numbers to colors and shapes – all the basic concepts and more. From hearing educational songs over and over again, they’ll pick up the tune as well as the words and what they mean. Songs are definitely a great aid in developing memory and language skills.
You can reinforce the learning by using other tools and activities such as flash cards and puzzles. There are plenty of affordable options, but you can also make them, using materials you already have on hand.
You can even just make a game using the items around you as they are. For instance, you can make a habit of counting things that come in multiples, spotting letters and numbers in the room, or touching the color that you call out.
This is a fun way for children to learn how to identify objects. By associating the sounds they hear with the corresponding sources, they are able to add to their knowledge. By imitating sounds, they get better command of the muscles in their mouth, which helps in speech development.
This is important in teaching independence. By letting them choose which snack they will eat or which outfit they will wear, they realize that they have a say in their life. It gives them opportunities for exercising control, building confidence, and understanding consequences.
When they’re really young, just offer them two things of your own choosing. Don’t give them free rein in the kitchen or their closet. This way, you can guarantee that their choice is healthy or appropriate.
Your children will come up with a plethora of questions as they learn about the world. It’s important to pay attention. Reply accordingly when you know the answer, and when you don’t, demonstrate your interest in their learning by helping them figure out the answer. Search engines are a gift, in this sense.
Besides receiving questions, pose them as well. Encourage your children to think, work out problems, discover solutions, and form opinions. Just by asking simple questions, you get to stimulate their thoughts and challenge their minds.
Let them explore new places. This doesn’t have to be exotic destinations or expensive parks. Children are curious. They’ll be fascinated by the most mundane things. The mall, the market, the local park, the church, the office — the options are endless. These are all avenues that will add to their observations and learning.
If you can afford baby and toddler classes, that’s good. An early start on skills training does give them an advantage.
You can also take them to playgrounds, play with pets, go on playdates, meet different people, watch free shows, and engage in outdoor activities. As long as they keep on having new experiences, you can be certain that they’re enriching their lives with more learning.
Whether nature or nurture, parents play a significant role in how children’s cognitive abilities develop. You can’t do much about genetics, but you definitely have a huge say on their environment. Make sure that it is conducive to optimized brain development, especially in the critical years.
Alan Williamson is the Chief Education Officer at Kings’ Education, a premium school brand in Dubai which leads a fantastic group of premium UK curriculum schools, including Child’s Play Nursery. As well as being passionate about teaching and learning, Alan has been actively involved in school leadership related to Special Educational Needs.