5 Ways to Boost Your Baby's Brainpower

These simple activities will help nurture your little one's growth and will help you connect too.

person reading book to baby sitting on the floor
Photo: Stephanie Rausser

In the first year, your cutie goes from depending on you for everything, to babbling, moving, and even feeding themself. That's all thanks to your marvelous mentoring! Nurture their growth even more with these activities.

Get that tummy time on.

It's your baby's warm-up to sitting, crawling, and walking; it builds upper-body and core strength; it exercises fine motor skills; and it exposes your little one to new sights. If your baby is uneasy at first (most are), lay them on your chest while you recline on the floor. Pick a time when they're alert—a tired baby and tummy time do not mix. Once your baby has transitioned fully to the floor, set out toys for them to grab. Your sweetie can begin tummy time pretty much from birth. Start slow with just two to five minutes a few times a day. By a year old, they should be able to handle up to 20 minutes.

Bust out the books.

Reading exposes your baby to new words and language sounds, and engaging in back-and-forth reading makes them an active participant. ("The car goes vroom! What sound does the car make? Vroom!") Really get into it! Point at objects on the page and change your voice for each character. Board books in bright colors that make noise or fold out are great for young babies. By 6 to 12 months, they'll like books with images of faces, shapes, or animals.

Talk their little ears off.

The more words your baby hears, the easier it will be to learn how to produce sounds needed for language. Talking to your baby also teaches them about the rhythms of conversation. ("Should we put on socks?" "Gah!" "Yes, we should!") Your child might have less interaction with adults and kids these days, but you can fill in the gaps by narrating your routine. ("It's bathtime now!") Imitate your baby's sounds and encourage them to imitate yours. Playing social language games, like peekaboo during that bath, also builds early talking skills.

Be their cheerleader.

Holding your baby, smiling at them, and reassuring them when they're trying something new helps them feel cared for. This important emotional-development milestone enables them to take risks, explore, and learn. Babies with a secure attachment (the strong bond that forms between a baby and guardian from consistent care) have been shown to develop at a more appropriate rate because they're more willing to be independent, like taking a first step. Steady routines during the day (like bath and rubber-duck time every night at 6 p.m., followed by pajamas and stories) can also help this attachment grow, as your baby can anticipate what will occur.

Make fun number one.

Playtime helps your baby learn about their environment, understand cause and effect (picking something up and dropping it), and see how things work (raising their hand to check out the rattle in it). You can even encourage pretend play. Keep it low-key by giving them a cup and seeing if they try to sip from it. Simply learning about new things helps their brain build important connections.

Sources: April A. Benasich, Ph.D., director of the Infancy Studies Laboratory at the Center for Molecular & Behavioral Neuroscience at Rutgers University, in Newark, New Jersey; Nia J. Heard-Garris, M.D., a physician-scientist at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago and Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine; Prachi Shah, M.D., a developmental and behavioral pediatrician at Michigan Medicine C.S. Mott Children's Hospital, in Ann Arbor.

This article originally appeared in Parents magazine's April 2021 issue as "Boost Their Brainpower." Want more from the magazine? Sign up for a monthly print subscription here

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