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1: Resist the Bells and Whistles
When you think "smarts," think executive function: the ability to focus, remember, and plan. Research shows it's a better predictor of success than IQ scores. By the time your baby reaches eight months old, rapid connections to her brain's frontal lobes (where executive function will live) are starting to form. The best brain workout is imaginary play, so scrap the noisy flashing toys and use simple materials like blocks, containers, or basic figures so your baby can be the one to create sounds, shapes, and ideas with them. Find the best baby toys for cognitive learning at BabyZone!
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2: Dont Try to Teach
The other key to building executive function is for your baby to have space to follow her interests. Allow her to carry out her objectives (provided theyre safe) even if that means pulling tissue out of a box for 10 minutes or inspecting a piece of string. Let go of any pressure you feel to teach her and instead help her explore what she gravitates toward herself (even if it seems boring to you). These mini-plans are the seeds of the strong ideas, passions, and projects that will come later in childhood.
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3: Talk Less, Listen More
Sure its important that we talk a lot to our babies — studies show that saying 2,100 words an hour to our kids is a good benchmark (thats not as hard as it sounds). But recent research is showing that the more important skill for us to practice is listening. Instead of chattering to your baby, choose times to be quiet and watch her curiously. Make eye contact, nod your head, pause, and then respond — thats an invaluable circle of communication.
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4: Tummy Time
Your pediatrician will assign your newborn about 30 minutes a day on her belly — thus beginning the dreaded tummy-time battle. Most of us know that tummy time gives the back of babys head a break, strengthens neck muscles, and lowers the risk of tortocollis. But pressure on the belly is also important for the nervous system, boosts coordination, and helps your babys visual development because she can track side-to-side movement.
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5: Lower the White Noise
White noise is a soothing, womb-like cue for newborns. But we have reason to think continuous moderate to loud white noise could put children at risk for auditory or language-related delays. A study in the journal Science showed that infant rats reared with constant white noise (at 70dB) had delayed development in the brains auditory cortex. Put your white noise machine on the lowest volume or use nature sounds like waves instead.
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6: Dolls for Him, Trucks for Her
Boy and girl brains do show slight differences (though the differences within genders is vastly greater than the differences between genders). But research shows that parents treat boys and girls differently even as infants robbing each of the chance to practice important mental and physical skills. Boys need a way to flex their empathetic, tender sides and develop emotional skill. Given the chance, girls will respond to the same roughhousing, ball-rolling, and truck-vrooming as their male peers.
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7: Acknowledge More Than You Praise
30 years worth of research has demonstrated pretty well that praising kids isnt very helpful. Since babies understand so much in the first year, practice acknowledging your childs process instead of praising her for being good or for achieving the end goal — its an important habit to form now. While your baby struggles to stack those plastic donuts, instead of waiting for yay, good job! just watch and state the facts — hmm, youre stacking donuts — or say something like, youre really working at that!
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8: Put a Scarf to Work
Put a teether under a scarf — does your baby search for it? Object permanence — the knowledge that something exists even when we cant see it — develops earlier than most people think (around three months), but your baby is still perfecting the concept through her first year of life. To facilitate the process, hide toys under a scarf or cover and uncover your face or hers while you sing and make funny faces together.
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9: Face It
Babies are wired to seek out and read faces. Thanks to active newborn brain regions like the superior colliculus, your baby recognizes you within a day after birth and spends the first year preoccupied with analyzing faces. Use faces in play: look into a mirror together or get a book with big, clear pictures of baby faces and prop it up during tummy time. Make your babys faces back to her. By the end of year one, start labeling the corresponding emotion when she makes a face.
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10: Everybody Get Low
The best place for your baby is always on the floor. Put her on a tight rug or play mat where she can move freely, with no contraptions and just a few toys. It may look simple to you, but while shes cycling her limbs and pushing up her trunk, reaching, shaking or chewing a toy, shes flexing her inner scientist. Physical movement equals brain exercise at this age, and the floor is the place to let your babys little moves and experiments free.
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