As a young child’s brain develops, trillions of connections are formed between brain cells and developed through such stimuli as light, color, smell and sound. These connections are vital to learning: The more connections a child has, the faster he or she can process information. Many experts believe that by stimulating an infant’s senses through an enriched environment, you can quite possibly increase his or her IQ. Here are 14 ways to create a mentally stimulating environment for your child:
1. Hold your baby frequently. In a recent research study, the findings showed that the more a baby was touched by the parent, the less likely that infant would develop attention deficit problems later in childhood.
2. Use expressive facial gestures. Infants respond to parents whose facial expressions are more animated. In one experiment, babies turned away from mothers with dull facial expressions, but turned toward those whose faces were more expressive.
3. Do wordplay games in the form of rhymes or songs that you make up with your child. This activity encourages the development of language skills.
4. Cut the captions off cartoons; create new captions with your child in order to boost thinking skills and creativity.
5. Have your child read age-appropriate stories out loud from newspapers or magazines.
6. At least once a week, take your children to the library, where they can read on their own or attend storytelling groups. Have your children get their own library cards so they can learn responsibility for taking care of books and returning them on time.
7. Take your children to appropriate cultural events throughout the year, such as plays and concerts.
8. Limit your children’s computer time, unless they are doing schoolwork that requires the use of the computer.
9. Travel to new places, including local museums. While on vacation, take them on tours of interesting sights even if they don’t expect to like going.
10. Use dinnertime for mental stimulation. Encourage your children to talk about their day and express their viewpoints.
11. Sing lullabies to your infant; these stimulate the development of brain connections, particularly during the first three years of life.
12. Use complex, multi-clause sentences when talking to your children, such as, “I’m going to the grocery store because we need cereal for breakfast,” as opposed to simple, single-clause sentences such as, “Drink your milk.” Children who are exposed to more complex grammatical structure show a higher degree of language development.
13. Enroll your children in dance classes (if they show an interest), since dancing requires the memorization of specific movements — a mental activity that helps build brain connections.
14. Provide stimulating age-appropriate toys that invite interaction and thought. For infants, look for toys that engage as many of the five senses as possible (color, texture, sound, sight and smell). Toddlers benefit from balls, blocks, cars, pull toys, simple puzzles, musical instruments, and stuffed animals and dolls. From ages 3 to 5, children begin to use their imaginations, so encourage them with construction sets, washable crayons or markers, and modeling clay. From ages 6 to 9, building self-esteem is important. Hobby sets, sports toys, computer software, construction toys and books with uplifting messages all make good playthings, so do educational toys that promote problem-solving skills, such as counting, math games and more challenging board games. From ages 10 to 12, children need to develop independence, responsibility and self-expression. Your best bets are complex construction sets, age-appropriate board games, science kits and artwork kits.
Modified excerpt from Family First: Your Step-by-Step Plan For Creating a Phenomenal Family by Dr. Phil McGraw (Free Press, 2004).
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