Keys to Enhancing Brain Development in Young Children
Think of young children in your life and imagine what they might become one day- doctor, teacher, astronaut, father, engineer, homemaker, farmer, mother. The world is open to each child, and parents and other caring adults hold the keys to opening the doors of learning and growth for children.
Childhood is all about learning. The development of the brain and the learning connections within the brain are at the heart of learning for young children. How can parents and other caregivers foster a child's healthy brain development and enhance a child's learning?
Laying the Foundations of Learning - a Safe and Secure Environment
Establishing a safe, secure and predictable environment for children is the best way to create the foundations of learning in infancy and childhood. This is the first basic rule of building a child's brain development. What are some practical guidelines for creating such an environment?
1. Respond warmly and quickly to a child's cues for support and attention
Infants in particular need close, positive relationships with adults. Babies experience their parents' love and the love of others through reassurance and responses to their needs for food and comfort. Respond to a baby's cues.
Infants can't use words to communicate their moods, needs or wants, but they send signals: the sounds they make, the way they move, facial expressions, or even the way they seek or avoid contact. For example, babies might cry shrilly if they need a diaper change, an infant may look away when done playing, or toddlers might hold up their arms to be picked up.
Children become securely attached when parents and other caregivers read these signals and try to respond with sensitivity. Being responsive to children's signals for support or attention helps the children trust the world around them and does not spoil the children. An adult's positive responses allow children to become comfortable in interacting with others and their environment. So, by responding warmly and quickly, you are putting in place the connections in children's minds that let them trust and explore the world around them. Key aspects in responding to children's signals are:
- Sensitivity - Learn to be aware of children's signals. Watch for their signals and how you can respond.
- Timing - Respond quickly to children's signals rather than waiting for extended periods of time.
- Warmth - Be gentle and caring with children when responding to cues, which helps them feel trust.
- Appropriateness - Try to give the right response to children's needs for support or attention. For example, watch a child to see if your response is what the child wanted.
Research suggests that children's development improves when parents follow a child's lead to provide appropriate responses. Parents and caregivers need to learn how to respond in ways that encourage continued learning that is matched to the child's capabilities and interests.
Example of application
When reading to a toddler, choose books with pictures that the child enjoys. Read only as long as the child seems interested, and involve the child by asking open-ended questions.
Reprinted with the permission of North Dakota State University.
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