Every parent wants to give their child a jump start on life. Perhaps that is why educational tools and devices for babies and children are a big business. But, did you know that one way to make your baby smarter doesn’t cost you anything? Believe it or not, the key to brain development is as simple as talking with your baby.
“Research has shown that talking with children from an early age helps to build the brain architecture they will need later in life,” said Kris Arizmendi, coordinator of the Talk With Your Baby (TWYB) program that offers free classes in South Bend, Ind. Kris shared how the simple act of talking to a baby can promote a child’s social, emotional and cognitive development.
Why is it important to talk to your baby?
Kris: In the first three years of life, a child’s brain will triple in size and will make millions of the connections necessary for talking, reading, writing and almost every other aspect of development. Talking with you child improves his cognitive development and literacy later in life, as well as increases his ability to form healthy relationships and develop social skills. Parents and caregivers are a baby’s first and best teacher in matters of building trust, dealing with emotional and physical needs and interacting with others in positive ways. It has been shown that it is the human interaction that matters and works best—they can’t learn from television or tapes!
What sort of advantages does a baby who is spoken to a lot have over one who doesn’t hear much conversation?
Kris: In one of the most telling studies to date, researchers followed parents and their young children from a wide variety of families and documented the frequency and substance of the words parents exchanged with their children. What they found is that children from more talkative families will have heard 30 million more words by the time they are 5 years old. That is 30 million more opportunities to build vocabulary, develop early literacy and learn important emotional and social cues. These same children from the talkative families did better on tests of cognitive development and reading readiness in the third grade.
How early should a parent start speaking to their baby?
Kris: Right from birth! The first three years of life are a “sensitive” period in babies’ brain development. During this time, their brains are like little sponges that soak up everything around them. The more you talk, the more they learn.
What are a couple of easy ways parents can speak with their babies?
Kris: There are millions of opportunities to talk with your baby throughout the day. Give your baby a play-by-play as you do things and use as many descriptive words as you can. “Time to throw the wet, cold laundry into the dryer!” “Look! Now the clothes are fluffy and warm!” Repeat your words, so that the baby can learn them.
For example: “Do you want a bottle? Look here’s the bottle! Is that a good bottle?” The best things you can do are read books, tell stories and sing songs. One of the things TWYB stresses and loves to help parents with is getting that home library started by providing all participants with eight or more books throughout the classes. Make reading a daily habit with your child, even as a baby. If she is familiar with books from the very beginning, reading will become an everyday joy instead of a struggle.
What do you say to someone who feels strange about speaking to their baby?
Kris: Just because your baby cannot respond to you with words and sentences, doesn’t mean he can’t understand and respond in other ways. It’s not silly to talk with your baby because he is taking in every word you say and adding every interaction to their rapidly developing brain. Speaking and interacting with your child every chance you get isn’t strange—it’s the best thing you can do for your baby’s reading, cognitive and social development.
Who can attend the TWYB classes?
Kris: TWYB has multiple neighborhood classes that are open to anyone in the community—moms, dads, grandparents, caregivers, childcare providers…everyone is welcome! The classes are also offered at numerous local agencies to the clientele of those agencies.