headstart - the unfair advantage for your child
maximizing your child's brain potential!
let's be honest. we all want a smart child. the intelligent one who talks early. picks up on numbers and shapes and colors before the 'others'. and generally the 'clever' baby in the group.
by providing them with a headstart and improving their brain power, you can!
while a novel could easily be written on the subject, i'm sure you're short for time. so i've rounded up 20 of the most crucial exercises, activities and habits, as recommended by leading child psychologists and researchers, you can adopt to give them an intellectual boost from a young age.
grab a cup of tea, kick back for a few minutes. this short read may just be the best investment you can make for your baby!
nature and nurture
although there are many factors that influence intelligence, the big three are genetics, nutrition and the quality of their nurturing. babies learn best by being allowed to explore and experience their surroundings and by setting their own agenda. intelligence is the ability to reason and solve problems, think abstractly and learn from experiences. play is actually your baby’s work time!
1. breastfeed for as long as you can
most studies agree that breast-feeding has many advantages, including the possibility of slightly higher IQ scores. the consensus seems to be that it is best to breastfeed or at least provide whole milk to your child for 12 to 24 months, when 75% of the child’s brain development will be complete. it is also generally agreed that the longer babies breastfeed during the first year, the higher their IQ tends to be.
still, if you choose formula, don't fret. studies have found that the ultimate IQ difference is just a few points, on average. if you're using formula, the american academy of pediatrics recommends an iron-fortified one for your baby's first year.
2. consume foods rich in fatty acids
many mothers are naturally concerned about what they eat when breastfeeding. research has shown that the most important factor for optimal brain development in the infant is essential fatty acids, known as omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. studies show that these fatty acids consumed during and after pregnancy will positively impact the mother’s health and the baby’s cognitive and visual development. the best food sources are fish, avocados, olive oil and milk.
3. proprioception in the early months
during the first month your baby is getting used to the outside world. going from such a warm, compact place to the outside can be overwhelming. during this period, the infant is particularly sensitive to touch and you should spend a lot of this month just holding your baby. through touch, your baby is learning about proprioception, which means an awareness of themselves, their body parts, what their limbs are doing and interpreting the various sensations experienced by the skin.
you can help this process by:
swaddling - which means keeping the baby wrapped firmly in a baby blanket. This is thought to help with proprioception and may even contribute to them sleeping a bit longer because they feel safe and snug.
massage - gentle massage over all parts of the babies body will help to develop proprioception and awareness of their body and is thought by some researchers to increase well being and IQ.
4. reading and talking
moms are naturals at lots of things, and talking to their babies is no exception. chances are you already instinctively use "motherese," a way of speaking in which you raise the pitch of your voice and slow the rate at which you talk, exaggerating syllables and drawing out vowels. widening your eyes and mouth while speaking gets your whole face into the act, and most babies find that fascinating. what you may not realize is that this kind of talk is actually helping boost your baby's brainpower - and future learning abilities.
research shows that babies' brains develop by making new connections called "neural pathways." every time you speak to your infant, those new pathways build the tot's mental foundation for learning other things. the more neural pathways that are developedearly on, the more your child will be able to learn later.
keep it short and sweet - use short sentences of four or five words, and one- or two-syllable words you can draw out, such as "prettty baaaby." and count everything whenever you can. count how many blocks your toddler can stack. or the number of steps in your house. or his fingers and toes. make a habit of counting out loud, and soon he'll join in.
perhaps the best thing you can do as a parent is read to your baby often. there is a correlation between the number of words a child hears as a baby and his verbal IQ. reading stories together helps you forge an emotional bond with your child and helps her learn too. pictures will allow your child to see things she otherwise might not, like tall ships and tigers.
also sing different songs that have movement that goes along with the song like 'itsy bitsy spider'. sing songs while doing the hand motions and get your baby to follow along with you to help his timing, rhythm and language skills.
5. teaching hand eye coordination
from 2 months of age a baby is developing its hand-eye coordination. they love to reach or grab for things hanging overhead. there are countless ready made mobiles and floor mats with dangling objects for your baby to use to try to master the art of aiming, reaching and touching the objects they are seeing above them.
be sure to give them lots of different toys and objects to reach for and grab on to. at a stage, they will love to throw them down as well! let them enjoy doing this as it a great cause and consequence game at this age.
the 5 senses
some senses (such as smell and taste) are at their most powerful at birth, and hearing fully matures at 1 month, while sight develops gradually over the first year. variety is the key to enhancing the senses and so boosting intelligence.
during the first few months of life, babies are busy absorbing sights, sounds and more through their five senses - and learning at a furious rate. every little bit of a newborn baby is like a sponge! by four months, your baby can reach out and begin actively touching whatever's nearby - blankets, toys, your face.
you should let them feel as many different textures as you can - silk, leather, different cloths, a cool window, a smooth plant leaf, and other safe objects, labeling items as you go. and when they're ready, serve foods that vary in texture – and let them play with them where you can!
believe it or not, the sense of smell is one of the earliest to emerge in the fetus. it's the predominant sense, very early on, because smells cross the amniotic fluid. and by the end of the first week of life, an infant's nose is so finely tuned that he can tell the difference between the scent of his mother's breast milk and that of another mom! newborns orient themselves by smell more than any other sense.
try to expose your baby to as many healthy smells as you can around the house and garden. the kitchen alone is a bonanza! and be sure to tell them what they’re smelling!
your baby's ability to see the world develops gradually over the first six or seven months of life. newborns can focus eight to 15 inches away (pretty much the distance between their eyes and your face while nursing). by the end of the first month, that distance has increased to about three feet.
in the early months, babies have trouble distinguishing one color from another - that's why high-contrast toys and mobiles are better for their eyes. by about 7 months, baby's eyesight is mature, and soon after, her eye-hand coordination and depth perception have improved enough to reach for a toy outside her immediate grasp. the best way to boost a newborn’s vision is to make frequent eye contact so as to help him focus on your face. then play games where they mimic you - stick out your tongue and make lots of faces! holding a mirror up to them and showing them simple pictures are also thought to be beneficial in the early months.
when your baby startles at even a soft noise, it's no wonder - his hearing is better than yours. in fact, a human being's sense of hearing is up and running even before birth. babies prefer high-pitched voices, so talk plenty of baby talk and practice your singing! don’t expose infants to loud noises, such as blaring music or power tools.
from 3 months of age you should be stimulating auditory rhythm and cause and effect. you can easily do this by playing anything from nursery rhymes to classical music. but don’t stop there. allow your baby to make their own music by letting them play with a toy that makes a noise. rattles and sticks on a pot lid are just as good as anything you can buy at the shops.
you can tell your baby is hearing well if he turns toward your voice. by about 4 months, they start to babble. at a year or so, they begin saying words, such as ‘dada’ and ‘mama’ - the easiest for babies to say. if your baby doesn't respond to sound, or isn't babbling by 7 months, talk to your pediatrician.
taste buds are fully formed at birth, and newborns naturally prefer sweet over salty flavors. once babies are ready for solid food (usually at around 6 months), they still tend to prefer sweeter tastes such as fruit and sweet potatoes to stronger-tasting veggies. keep in mind that because babies' taste buds are so sensitive, bitter flavors such as spinach may be overwhelming to them.
since babies do get flavors through breast milk, moms should eat a wide variety of foods while breastfeeding. once you begin with solids, try to expose your baby to as many different tastes as you can. to get your baby to eat a new food, you may need to introduce it again and again. it may take up to 15 exposures for him to like a flavour!
exercises and habits
the more balanced in terms of physical and mind activity with solid rest, the better. little brains absorb and process a ton of new information a day, boosting their intellectual capacity. these are fanastic exercises, habits and tips to help them do that!
11. establish good night time sleep
according to the academy of sleep medicine, good night time sleep vs. daytime naps may speed an infant’s brain development and increase executive functioning, which enables skills like attentiveness, self-discipline and memorization.
although this is common sense, many parents struggle to get their babies into a good sleeping routine. studies show that the three-step bedtime routine of a warm bath, massage and quiet activity, such as a story or lullaby, improves children’s sleep.
12. use sign language
use sign language to communicate with your baby before he ever speaks. you'll be lending his intelligence a helping hand too - scientific data shows that sign language has a positive effect on IQ and language development.
you can start with basic signs indicating food, hot, cold, raining, etc. be sure to always say out loud the words to go with the actions, as this speeds up language learning. according to a study conducted at the university of california, babies who learned about 20 signs talked earlier and had higher IQs than those who didn't!
develop your own little sign language for hungry, thirsty, toys they want, etc. show them the action, keep repeating it out loud and they will quickly catch on. eventually your baby will start to imitate your movements and develop an alternate form of communication. you can invent any number of similar movements yourself. There is a website called babysigns.com that is dedicated to teaching signs.
13. a second language
a baby’s brain is like a sponge, constantly receiving information and building the bridges needed for future intelligence. reading to your baby daily and telling them about their environment and surroundings helps them acquire language skills. in addition, hearing a foreign language could help build the area of the brain that easily learns a new language.
if you want to teach your baby more than one language, that's even better. many studies show that brain development is enhanced by exposure to multiple languages in the early years. if you want to raise your child bilingual, it is best to have mom, dad or the nanny choose one language and stick with it. one person switching back and forth is confusing.
14. EQ - make them laugh
the brain learns best when it's challenged with new information. the university of georgia's better brains for babies program reports that emotional intelligence (EQ), which involves an understanding of others, predicts about 80 percent of a person's career success. although emotional intelligence continues to develop through adolescence, a baby's early experiences form the basis for a lifetime.
the best way to stimulate this area of intelligence is simply to make your baby laugh. go gaga with the silly noises and faces! tickle them all over and play games like ‘this little piggy’ and ‘peek-a-boo”.
15. develop gross motor control
much of a child’s early learning, especially in the first year, is based on movement. physical development stimulates brain development. so although they can make a mess at times by splashing water in the tub, this is a valuable experience for them. same with banging pots together. here are some simple ideas that form the basis of good motor control:
let your baby spend some of his awake time on their stomach to help develop the back and neck muscles. you can start when they are a newborn with a few minutes per day, a few times per day. encourage baby to lift their head and then turn their head from side to side. if your baby fusses a lot at first, keep the sessions short. but, don’t give up too easily – just slow down
you should promote crawling before walking and avoid activity chairs and walking rings that prevent this important step in your baby’s development. skipping the crawling phase can cause problems with fine motor coordination.
no fancy equipment needed for this one either. lay on your back with your baby with baby on your knees and gently lift baby higher then lower to let them feel the sense of motion.
16. develop fine motor control
fine motor skills involve the small muscles of the body that enable such functions as writing, grasping small objects, and fastening clothing. they involve strength, fine motor control, and dexterity. you can use many different things around the house for this one. try spoons, chopsticks, paper towel rolls or plastic spatulas.
give baby two items and help him bang them together and see the different sounds the different items make. the trick to developing great fine motor control (excellent for sports!), is to expose your baby to a wide range of games. simply Google ‘fine motor control’ and you will find hundreds of exercises and games. do a different one every day!
17. play memory games
memory games are excellent for increasing intelligence and there is much research on the subject. the easiest games to start with are matching games – get two sets of identical cards, pictures, blocks, etc, and make a game of grouping the matching pairs. later on, puzzles are a fantastic brain booster. and once they are old enough to play on a computer, the stanford university sponsored website is one of the best places to find brain boosting games that are great for all ages.
by changing the scenery, you can also begin improving memory from an early age – switch your toddler’s chair to the other side of the table and you’ll challenge their memory about where things are. exploring new surroundings on your walks and trips is also an excellent and easy way to increase memory.
18. leave them alone time
if you entertain your baby every minute she's awake, you'll wear her out before boosting her brainpower. and you certainly won't help her develop her attention span, which is crucial for academic achievement.
there is a philosophy that kids need entertainment around the clock. this is not true. they need long periods in which to be content in their own mind. the better they are at doing this, the longer their attention span is likely to be. they need some downtime to amuse themselves in whatever way they choose, whether it be mumbling, playing with toys or crawling around.
19. keep away from screens
although not an exercise, this is an important factor in future intelligence and follows directly on from the point above about a child’s attention span. there is a grave danger lurking in today’s modern and wired home…. the ‘screens’. you know the ones I’m talking about – mobile phones, television, iPads, iMacs and on and on.
one need only consider the explosion in Ritalin use to appreciate that there are serious attention issues in modern families. it’s best for your baby to have face-to-face interaction with you rather than a television screen. in these crucial years, their imagination must be allowed to flourish. too much digital input pushes its way into the conscious mind, crowding out imagination. over time, the brain wave patterns change. thiis can decrease attention span and subsequent academic achievement. don’t use the television as a babysitter! instead, get down on the floor at their level and have fun with them.
20. social skills - get a pet
there is research to suggest that one of the best ways to improve a child’s social intelligence is to let them interact with animals. pets have feelings and mimic the body language of people. children who interact with pets will learn to interpret expressions and emotions earlier than those who only play with toys.