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Boost your baby or toddler’s brain by playing this summer

Wide eyed, curious, (a little bit dribbly), babies and toddlers are often mesmerised in thought. Then you sing a song and their eyes light up! They’ve just had a eureka moment.

The science is clear: children’s brains develop rapidly in their first few years, and what you do with your child has a huge impact on their early learning.

That’s why the early years are such an important time – and it’s why missing out at this age can have a life-long impact on children. Read on to find out how you can boost your baby or toddler’s brain through games and play this summer.

What’s happening in your child’s brain?

At age one, a child’s brain is already 72% of the volume of an adult’s brain. And at age two, they’re making connections about twice as fast as us grown-ups. Your little one is learning at lightening speed.

Then when they’re three, until about five, their brain becomes more efficient and more complex (in a phase called ‘synaptic pruning’!). They start to refine all the information that they’ve learnt and their brain is about two times as active as yours!

Anjay with her youngest child Ryder, 4 months.

Your love helps them to learn: top tips for parents this summer

You can have the biggest influence on your child’s early learning. That’s because the experiences children have, and their environment, all affect how their brain and language skills develop – right from birth.

Tips to help your baby learn:

  • Play ‘baby’ games together (peepo or sticking your tongue out). Watch for your baby’s reaction, and if they enjoy it, do it again.
  • Respond to the noises your baby makes. Echo their cooing noises. Comment on what you think they might be trying to say – eg, “You like that, don’t you?”
  • Sing songs and look at pictures or books together. Your baby doesn’t have to know what the words mean, they will enjoy spending time with you and hearing you talk or sing.

Tips to help your toddler learn:

  • Talk about what you see and hear around you.
  • Keep your sentences short and simple and use sentences that are one word longer than your toddler uses. This helps their understanding and teaches them what to aim for next.
  • Keep dummies for bedtime – children who have a dummy in their mouth for a lot of the day don’t get as much practice at talking. That can mean the sounds they use aren’t clear and they may use fewer words.

Tips to help your pre-schooler learn:

  • Listen to what your child is trying to tell you and respond to them. Talking together helps build your child’s brain and supports their early language development.
  • Talk with your child about what’s happening day-to-day. Your child can join in with daily tasks and you can talk together about what you are doing – eg, “I have to hang the washing up now,” or “Can you find a sock?”
  • Give your child plenty of time to respond when you are talking with them. Young children take time to understand what you have said and to plan what they want to say. Wait for them and then you can have a conversation together.

For more information and resources visit I CAN’s www.talkingpoint.org.uk

Rougayatoukeira, age 4, and mum Kadidiata arriving at heir nursery in central London.

What happens when children don’t get the support they need?

Critically, growing up with an insecure relationship can affect a child’s later physical and mental health, behaviour and education.

This is because a child’s relationship with their parents or carers affects their stress hormones. Children who have less secure relationships have higher stress hormone levels. This can alter their brain development and it can make children less capable of coping with stress as they grow up.

High quality childcare can do wonders

Childcare is also playing an increasingly significant role in children’s development as more and more young children spend at least part of their day at nursery. Our evidence shows that good quality childcare can do wonders for children’s language development and future ability at school.

Last year, six children in every reception class in England struggled with their early language skills. That’s the equivalent of every five-year-old in reception class in London, Manchester, Sheffield, Liverpool and Newcastle – so there’s lots that can be done!

We’re campaigning in the UK for more investment in good-quality childcare to support children’s early development.

If you’re interested in our campaign or would like to get involved, click here to sign up.

The information in this article comes from Save the Children’s report Lighting Up Young Brains written by Jerome Finnegan

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