Many busy parents know how hard it can be to fit in extra learning activities and opportunities for children. Work schedules are full, family and social obligations are constant, and the grind of routine is relentless. Sleep is hard to come by when you have a baby, so the drive to do any extras in the teaching department might be zero as well. Thankfully, babies learn every day without you hardly making an effort. In fact, there are things you do every day that'll make your baby smarter later in life. Things that don't require oodles of time, or huge chunks of money.
If I'm being completely honest I found it hard (and boring) to interact with my kids when they were infants. After the first few months, however, I started seeing signs that my babies heard me, saw me, and,dare I say, liked me According to the Healthy Children website, the main way babies learn is when their parents or caregivers interact with them. Sure, your baby is looking around and soaking up information, but playing is when babies learn language, object permanence, and problem-solving. The proof that they're getting a kick (and a notch in the noggin) out of it, will be those smiles.
Besides deliberate play, here are seven things that you're probably doing every day that are setting up your child to be super smart later in life.
1. Read To Your Infant
Reading is an activity many parents start early on with their babies. And that's great because reading promotes brain growth and a love for literature.
"When you read to babies, it can help speech development as they are taking in information and beginning to learn about speech patterns," Rachel Robertson, vice president for education and development for Bright Horizons, tells Romper. "In addition, synapses connect between your infant's neurons as you read aloud, positively affecting child development in many areas." She added that reading with your baby can also help give your child an expansive vocabulary, which in turn, makes them smarter.
2. Talk To Your Child Constantly
My pediatrician told me about the importance of talking to my baby early on and, because I am a huge talker, both of my kids benefited greatly from my gabby nature. I would describe the scenery during walks and my activities throughout the day (both in Spanish and English). As it turns out, words really do have power.
"Much of the differences we see in achievement between low-income and higher-income students in elementary school relates back to their exposure to language early in life," Amy Webb, who holds a doctorate in human development and authors the blog, The Thoughtful Parent, tells Romper.
Webb said the research shows that children in low income households hear on average 600 words per hour. Kids from higher income families hear 2,100 words per hour. That's a pretty big difference, but it's easy to counter by encouraging all parents to talk more to their babies.
"Talking to babies is the easiest activity a parent can do to improve their child's language development," Webb says.
3. Sing To Your Baby
I certainly don't have the best voice in the world, but I belted out a few tunes when my kids were babies a day. Thankfully, perfect pitch doesn't matter when singing to babies, as they reap the benefits of the rhythm no matter what. According to Psychology Today, singing to a baby is thought to be their first language lesson, and may even prevent language problems later in life.
4. Encourage Your Baby To Draw And Color
"Babies and toddlers need to go back to pre-writing activities like drawing and coloring," Dr. Stacy Haynes, counseling psychologist and author tells Romper. "Many children are handed electronics at an early age and are missing out on key physical and mental development skills needed for writing."
Thankfully, the same skills in drawing and coloring are used in writing and may really help when a kid gets to be school-aged. Haynes said children need to be able to use a pencil to learn in school, not electronics. A child that knows how to write before they go to school will be ready for lessons and feeling more confident in their abilities.
5. Let Them Make A Mess
If you have a baby isn't every day a mess?
Joking aside, being messy and encouraging more dirty play apparently makes your kids really smart because it increases creativity. "I know what a pain it is to clean up play doh, clay, glitter and paint, but it is worth it when your child has no limitations to what he or she learns from the process of creation," Leslie Elia, childcare worker and owner of Growing Vital Health tells Romper.
Hopefully, teaching kids how to clean up after their messes will count for something in the smart department too later on in life.
6. Allow Them To Move As Freely As Possible
"Babies learn with their whole bodies — ears, hands, tongues, even feet," Webb says. "Research is showing more and more how movement and learning are closely tied."
She said the easiest thing a parent can do is just let their babies move as freely and safely as possible. Webb also suggests parents limit time in strollers and car seats and, instead, "allow your baby to explore on the floor, touch new textures and roll around."
7. Limit Screen Time
At a recent puppet performance, I was reminded of something really important — screens don't allow us to interact. As I sat there in the audience with my kids at the puppet show, we were encouraged to talk back to the cast members, ask questions, and even engage with the audience. Through this, my kids were learning how to listen effectively, converse clearly, debate thoughtfully, and practicing their social manners. The same can't be said for television and tablets, even when they're considered high quality or educational.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) discourages media use for children under 18 months old, except for video chatting with loved ones or family friends. The AAP noted that researchers have found that excessive screen time has been linked to the following: obesity, irregular sleep issues, behavioral problems, and loss of social skills.
It's reassuring to know that we're already doing so much for our babies, simply by interacting with them. It's not so much about doing extra learning activities and teaching them five foreign languages by the time they're one year old. It's about just seizing the space and time you already have, and maximizing it for some serious baby brain power.