Supporting healthy brain development doesn't have to be complicated. Simple activities and toys can provide experiences that strengthen connections in the brain.
The following are some general brain-building tips. For other ideas, click the Activity Types to the left. To see activities by age group, click the images below.
- Crying is a young baby’s main tool for expressing needs. When you respond sensitively and lovingly to your baby’s cries, she learns to trust you.
- Babies need adults who are emotionally available, not just physically present, to build strong relationships. Be sure to give your baby some focused time each day, away from phones and other distractions.
- Take time to play and laugh with your baby every day. Playful one-on-one interactions can help him build a secure relationship with you.
- Babies need adults who are sensitive to them. Pay attention to the sounds your baby makes, and respond promptly and lovingly.
- Responding to your baby when she cries teaches her to trust you and helps her learn to form relationships. Don't worry—responding when she cries won’t spoil your baby!
- Name emotions for your infant. Beginning to hear words for feelings can help with emotional adjustment later in life.
- Help your child begin to learn decision-making by giving her simple choices to make. Allowing her to pick one of two different outfits also builds confidence.
- Doing the same things in the same order every day helps children build confidence. Help children learn self-help skills by setting up and following a regular routine.
- Help your toddler practice working memory and attention by playing imitation games like “Follow the Leader.”
- Help young children try out finger plays and songs with movement. These activities help build executive function skills, such as self-control and decision making.
- A game of “freeze dance” can help children practice memory and attention skills, which will help with later problem solving. Play music and dance, then freeze in place when the music stops.
- Talk to your baby about the everyday things you are doing together. Hearing you speak helps shape the brain connections that she needs to communicate.
- Resist the urge to chime in. When your child is speaking, make eye contact, smile, and use nonverbal cues to let her know you are listening. You don’t want to stop your child’s thought process or step on her toes.
- Babies can hear sounds in many more languages than adults do. Infancy is the best time to expose children to more than one language.
- Respond to your baby's babbling and cooing by talking, just as you respond to another adult in conversation. Your back-and-forth responses with your baby lay the foundation for language skills.
- Reading aloud with your child, starting in infancy, helps her learn language and reading comprehension skills.
- Repetition is important for children learning language. Even if you are tired of it, reread your child’s favorite book over and over to build her language skills and help her get ready to read.
- Making eye contact, smiling, and talking with your infant can teach her about social interaction and communication.
- Use new words to elaborate on your child’s interests. If she is playing with a ball, describe the color and what the ball is doing. Hearing your words will help expand her vocabulary.
- Look your baby in the eyes and sing a song.
- Infants have good hearing from birth and babies adore music. Go ahead and sing your heart out.
- Create homemade musical instruments with your child using pots and pans, paper plates or plastic bottles and beans, shoe boxes and rubber bands--the possibilities are endless! You will have fun creating them together, and your child will learn in the process.
- Singing to your infant and young child can improve their language development—and they love music so it can lead to quality interactions!
- Sing to your baby while interacting with him. Infants love music, and it helps them learn.
- Getting enough sleep is important for brain development. Maintain a consistent sleep routine to give your child’s brain time to rest.
- Allow your child to experience new sights and sounds to build vision and hearing. These new experiences will help build brain connections!
- Always place your baby to sleep on his back. Sleeping on the back reduces the risk of sudden unexplained infant death (SUID).
- Between 12 and 24 months, babies need dietary fat for myelination. Whole milk is one good source of that brain-building fat.
- Babies are safest sleeping alone, on their back, in a crib with a tight-fitting mattress and sheet -- and nothing else.
- Breastmilk provides babies with immune factors that protect them from illness while their immune systems are developing.
- Instead of confining your baby to a stroller or high chair, create a safe space where she can explore. Exploration strengthens brain connections for motor skills and problem solving.
- Active play helps young children build gross motor skills and reduce stress. Help your child play by finding spaces where he can run, jump, and climb safely.
- Toys don’t have to be expensive to help children learn. Simple objects like a pan and a spoon or homemade blocks can build brain connections by encouraging exploration.
- Children learn through unstructured play. Leave some time unscheduled for them to explore and be creative!
- Provide varied sensory experiences to help your baby develop brain connections. When she is old enough for table food, offer various new foods and allow her to experience different textures and tastes.
- Provide open-ended toys and activities for children to spur creativity and problem solving skills.
- Encourage your child to play through exploring and engaging with her environment. Using her senses to explore will help her learn!
- Your baby learns by imitating your behavior. Let him watch you dance or play with toys or do chores around the house—then encourage him to try.
- Did you know that babies can feel stress too? Small periods of stress can help teach your baby how to self-soothe, but prolonged periods, or extreme situations of stress can be toxic. Being attentive and responsive to your baby’s needs can help him/her learn to appropriately manage stress.
- Stable, caring relationships can buffer against the harmful effects of toxic stress. When life is stressful, your child needs you to be there to help her through it.
- Help children reduce their stress and calm themselves. Activities like water play, finger painting, running and climbing, dancing to music, and pretending can reduce stress and increase learning.
- Small stresses can help your child learn coping skills. Instead of fixing things for her, help your child find effective ways to deal with everyday disappointments.
- Help your child deal with stress by teaching him words to describe feelings and showing him appropriate ways to express emotions.
- Teach your child deep breathing to reduce stress. Pretend to smell a flower as you breathe in, and pretend to blow out a candle as you breathe out.
- Schedule time for your children to relax and just be kids. Having a packed schedule can be stressful for you and for them.
- Children can learn to soothe themselves when they are experiencing stress. Model positive coping strategies like listening to music, taking deep breaths, or visualizing a happier place.