Your child’s brain grows at an explosive rate during the first three years of his life.
During these critical brain-growth periods, long, thin nerve pathways grow inside the brain.
These are wirings that connect and carry electrical impulses from brain cell to brain cell. The resulting network, which grows daily in the young brain, forms the neurological foundation of skills that your child will use for the rest of his life. In conjunction with your child’s gene, experiences after birth determine the eventual wiring of the human brain.
Existing connections eagerly await new experiences that shape the neural networks for language, reasoning, problem-solving, and moral values. Unique experiences build upon established patterns and create new patterns and networks for more learning.
Connections that are used repeatedly will become permanent. Those that are not used get discarded.
Spending time playing with your toddler is especially good for your toddler’s cognitive development.
That’s because playing together builds your relationship and sends a simple but powerful message – you are essential to me. This message is key to helping your toddler learn about who they are and where they fit in the world. Check out My Baby Nursery for all your baby product needs.
It also gives your child the confidence to keep exploring and learning about the world.
How to Encourage a Child’s Brain Development
Children’s brains develop rapidly from age birth through three. Brain development affects all areas of a child’s growth.
There are four main areas of development: motor (physical), language and communication, social and emotional, and cognitive. Brain development is part of cognitive development. Cognitive development describes how a child’s intellect grows and includes thinking, learning and problem-solving skills. These skills affect all other areas of development.
The first three years of a child’s life are critical for learning and development. Many parents ask how they can help their child’s brain develop. The best way is to actively engage your child through everyday activities like playing, reading and being there when he/she feels stress.
Here are ideas to encourage brain development:
Play is a beautiful way to help a baby or toddler’s brain develop. Play might be a game, talking or singing to engage your child’s brain actively. “Peek-a-boo” and holding toys out to watch and help a baby’s brain develop. Talk to your baby about what you are doing. For toddlers, sing songs with actions, like “Wheels on the Bus,” encourage pretend-play colour and build with blocks and toys. These foster imagination and creativity.
Babies can feel stress. Hold and cuddle your baby. Let him/her know you are there to comfort and help them when they feel pressure. Studies show that responsive, loving and supportive care helps babies handle stress better than if care is inconsistent.
Reading is one of the best ways to promote a child’s brain development. Even before he/she can recognize letters or words, reading kick starts language and communication skills. Hearing words and seeing pictures connects the two in a child’s mind. Repeating the same books further builds recognition between the words you speak and the images on the page. As a child grows, ask him/her to point to specific pictures on the page, like “Where is the dog?”
Brain-Boosting Toddler Activities
Below are some brain-boosting toddler games and activities that you can play with your toddler. It is grouped into specific skills that are being exercised. Although a particular skill is highlighted, typically, each game involves developing a combination of skills.
Babies begin their problem-solving lives with basic cause-and-effect reasoning and flexibility. By the time young children reach toddler age, their problem-solving skills start to mature. They learn curiosity, patience, work towards achieving a goal, and gain a solution.
Block Patterns: One and a Half and Above
Use building blocks to make simple structural patterns such as two blocks with one above, three in a row set of blocks, and so on. Playfully ask your toddler to copy the design. Afterwards, ask him to make his pattern. Show your toddler that you are having fun copying his pattern. Make the patterns more complicated as your child becomes more skilful in figuring out how to build block structures based on your pattern. Eventually, you can also allow him to play freely with building structures.
Nesting Game: One and a Half and Above
Give your toddler nesting toys or toys of different sizes that can fit inside each other. You can also use different size bowls, cups or toys that you create from cardboard boxes. Play with your child by showing him that the toys can be fitted within each other. Take the nested toys apart and encourage your child to nest the toys himself. Start with a few nesting objects and gradually add more.
Nesting game teaches your toddler about size differences and solving problems through logical reasoning.
Matching Game: Two to 2 and a half
Draw colourful shapes or animals in cards and make an exact pair of each drawing. Start with 3 or 4 teams. Turn the cards over. Open one card for your toddler. Ask your toddler what the picture is, and tell him that you will be looking for the same drawing. Open the rest of the cards one by one, and ask your toddler if it is the same as the open card. If he finds a pair, give it to him, open another card and ask him to look for its team. Repeat until all cards are matched.
Each time a child is stimulated to think, new neural pathways are formed, or existing ones are strengthened. Challenging activities in a loving environment create optimal learning experiences. Play puzzles with your child. Puzzles involve reasoning, discrimination, and muscle control, which all challenge the developing brain.
Paper Puzzle: for two and a Half Years and Older.
Cut shapes made of coloured paper, and make a board with drawings that fit the shapes. Make your child match the cut-up shapes with the ones on the board.
Another idea is to get large colourful, and engaging pictures of a simple object from magazines. Cut them in four and ask your child to put the picture back together again. To make the puzzle more challenging, you can cut the picture into more than four pieces or irregular shapes. You can also mix up cut-outs from 2 images.
Opposites: for two and a Half Years and Older.
Collect pictures of things or draw pictures of things that are opposites such as big and small, hard and soft, up and down, inside and outside and so on. Paste the images in cards. Talk to your toddler about the concept of opposites. Mix up the cards on the table. Pick up a card and describe what it shows. “This is something big. Where’s something that’s small?”
What’s Next?: 2 Years and Up
Reread a storybook that you read before to your toddler. Before turning the page, ask your toddler what she thinks is going to happen next. If she needs help, give her a hint as to what happens next. If your child still cannot remember, just tell her “Let’s find out” and turn the page, then talk about what happens next. You can also read a new book and make your child guess what happens next in the story.
Learning to pay attention and focusing attention to completing a task is a skill that is essential to other forms of learning. Being able to concentrate is also necessary for problem-solving.
Remove the Tape
Stick long strips of paper tape on any flat surface like a table or a fridge door. Make the video overlap each other. Show your toddler how to remove the tapes one at a time using the fingernail, and then let her do it herself.
Play with blocks or any toy that stacks. Challenge your toddler by stacking the toys as high as he can.
Coin Pattern Game: 2 Years Old and Up
Gather a combination of coins – pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters. Show your toddler a variety of four coins in a sequence, for example, two pennies and two dimes. Make your toddler look at the coins. Cover the cash and ask your toddler to make the same combination from memory, using the other currencies from your collection. Give your toddler a happy response when he gets the combination right, and gently correct him when he does not get it right until he masters his concentration skill.
Language and Communication
For optimum brain development, young children need a rich and responsive language environment. The plasticity of the brain and its ability to rewire itself make it so easy for children to learn a language. The more words young children hear, the more connections their brains make. Children learn a language by hearing words over and over. That’s why the more you talk to your child, the better. Talking to a young child increases the number of words that he will recognize and eventually understand.
Read Picture Books
For your toddler, choose books with clear pictures of familiar objects.
The most effective way for your toddler to acquire language skills is for you to read books to her. Toddlers learn the rules of grammar by hearing you and others speak. Also, you can consider teaching your toddler to read early using this step-by-step guide.
With your toddler, watch your reflections in a large mirror. Make faces in the mirror. Point out her body parts such as nose, mouth, neck, etc. Point out your body parts, calling them, for example, “mommy’s nose”, “mommy’s mouth”, etc. Ask her to point at her body parts and mommy’s body parts.
This game teaches your toddler body awareness, sees herself as separate from others, and can explore her identity using language.
Talking With Your Toddler
Pick up one of your toddler’s toys and talk to him about it. Use words repeatedly. Add other cues to make your conversation enjoyable, such as doing actions (For example, “Oh look, a playful teddy bear. Look at him jump… jump… jump” and while saying “jump”, you make the teddy bear move as if it is jumping, and so on), changing the tone and pitch of your voice, or making your toddler do something with the toy (“Hug the teddy bear.” Show him how to hug the teddy bear, and take turns hugging the teddy bear).
Make a Book With Your Toddler’s Picture
Gather some of your toddler’s pictures and paste them into pages of paper to make a book. Arrange the images to create a story and paste the photos on the pages. The report does not have to be a narrative. It can be told in a way like “A Day in the Live of…” Read the book together with your toddler. She will love the book that features him as the main character.
Imagination & Creativity
Nurturing your child’s creativity and imagination helps her develop her abstract thinking and problem-solving skills. Your child’s ability to generate new thoughts and ideas is essential to productive adult life.
Play With Sand: for One and a Half Years Old and Older.
Take your toddler to a place where he can play with sand, such as the beach or a playground. Bring toys or kitchen utensils that will help him form and sculpt the sound. Show him how he can make designs such as wavy lines, circles, and others. Show him also how to make simple sand sculptures such as a sandcastle or tower using his toys.
This game enables your toddler to express himself creatively and also develop his fine motor skills. My Baby Nursery has a wide range of baby nursery playpens for your little bub.
Crayon (or Paint) Game
Tape a large poster board on a hard, solid floor, or use sheets of regular paper taped together. Give your toddler crayons or paint and show her how to draw. Encourage your toddler to make her drawings using different colours.
Get non-toxic modelling clay from a toy store. Show your toddler how to make shapes like squares, triangles, rectangles and show him how they fit together. To make the game more fun, advance to modelling recognizable 3d shapes like blocks, table, lollipop, and so on.
This game exercises your child’s imagination and the stimulation of actually creating something.
Reading a Story Book
Choose a storybook appropriate for your toddler, one with a simple plot. Read the book with him by using gestures and changing the tone of your voice depending on the situation in the story and which character is speaking.
Reading books aloud to children stimulates their imaginations and expands their understanding of the world. It helps children develop language and listening skills and prepares them to understand written words.
Hugging, kissing, cuddling and making your toddler feel secure and cared for helps develop her brain. You are also making her grow to be socially well-adjusted. The more nurtured, loved, cared for, and safe a child feels, the more firmly established his emotional well-being will be. Your child’s earliest experiences with you, the parent, shape what is to become of her as an adult. It is her early experience with you that she learns how to feel and handle her feelings – and this affects her later behaviour and thinking capabilities.
Sing and Cuddle
Carry and cuddle your toddler while singing and rocking him to the rhythm of the music. Lovingly squeeze his hand, and establish eye contact, expressing your love for him.
Hide and Cuddle: Two and a Half Years and Older
This is similar to hide and seek. Hide in a place that is easy for your child to find you. Call your child’s name so that he can follow your voice and see you. When your child finds you, show him that he did well. Scoop him up and rock him back and forth while laughing and kissing his face.
Toy Pets or Doll: Two and a Half Years and Older
You need a doll or an animal toy for this. Teach your child to nurture by playing pretend friends with her. Show her how to take care of a pretend pet or act baby by loving stuff such as feeding the toy, rocking it to sleep and talking to it. You can combine this activity with singing, such as singing the toy with the lullaby, which makes your child use musical skills and language.
Memory is learning that sticks. When your child learns something, new synapses form or old synapses are strengthened, creating memories of the experience or what the child learned. Just like a muscle, the more memory is used in the early years, the easier it will be for her to handle a load of information in school.
Show your toddler a book of animals that make sounds. Point to an animal and make the sound the animal says. For example, point to the cow and say, “Look at the cow. The cow says moo!” Then ask your toddler what the cow says. “What does the cow say?” Help him by repeating the animal sounds until he makes the right sound. You can show him the next couple of animals and then go back to the cow and see if he remembers the sound of the animals he has encountered so far.
Collect a few boxes and paste pictures of significant persons or objects (pictures of his dad, mom, dog, house, etc.) in each of the boxes. Cover the containers with different coloured paper, or otherwise, make them unique. Open the boxes and talk to your child about the picture posted in each of the boxes. Close the box and ask your child which package has the image of each person or object.
This game exercises your child’s visual memory while helping him build listening and language skills.
Picture Fun: for One and a Half Year Old or Older
From magazines, cut out pictures of objects that are not familiar but interesting to your toddlers, such as aeroplanes, a giraffe or a mountain. Glue these on index cards. Show the pictures to your toddler, telling him the object’s name and talking to him about the thing. Then, ask your toddler to look for an image that you told him about. For example, after talking about the giraffe, you can ask her, “Where’s the giraffe?”
This game stimulates your child’s visual memory, as well as help her language development.
A young brain primed for math gives the child enormous benefits for his future. Activities to boost his math skills change his brain to become skilful in problem-solving. Being adept in math at an early age is also a stronger predictor of later school achievement than reading skills or paying attention.
Grouping Stuff Together: 2 Years Old and Up
Gather a collection of large buttons, colourful beads and things that are easy to sort into a table. Show your toddler how to group items by shape, colour or size. Let your child group the objects by himself. After the stuff is sorted, count them one by one.
Introducing Math Shapes and Symbols
On blank paper, draw shapes and numbers that your toddler can colour. After colouring the drawing, tell your toddler what she did, such as saying, “You just coloured the circle red”, etc.
Counting and Rhyming
Sing with your child nursery rhymes that involve numbers such as “Five Little Ducks,” “Five Little Monkeys,” and “Ten Little Indians.” While singing the verse with her, represent the numbers with objects such as toys or even just holding up your fingers as you count. Repeat this game as long as she enjoys it. Hearing the numbers, again and again, reinforces her math vocabulary.
Gross and fine motor skills, balance and eye-hand coordination are necessary for many tasks – from writing to athletic abilities.
When your toddler is involved in physical activity, he exercises many parts of the brain and enhances brain function by providing more oxygen. Even small muscle exercises like fingerplays stimulate brain growth.
Blowing Bubbles Game: 12 Month and Up
Let your toddler chase the bubbles that you make. Toddlers find bubbles fascinating and tracking and popping them a lot of fun. You can use a big wand and then a tiny rod to make her see the difference between big and small bubbles.
This game stimulates your child’s senses, and her body movement makes her exercise her gross motor skills.
Roll the Ball: 12 Month and Up
Use a ball with the size that your toddler can carry with both hands. Sit opposite each other, a couple of feet apart. Gently roll the ball to your child and encourage her to move the ball back to you. As she gets better, increase the distance between you. You can vary the game by gently bouncing the ball to her instead of rolling it.
This game teaches your child body awareness, gross motor skill and concentration.
Pillow Obstacle Course: 12 Month and Up
Make an obstacle course made up of pillows and cushions, some stacked high and some stacked low. Encourage your toddler to crawl or walk towards you by making her way through the pad. You can use pillows of different sizes, colours and textures. Make the course more challenging by making her crawl under soft furniture that has no sharp edges.
This game helps develop gross motor skills, body awareness and balance.
Balancing Game: 2 Years Old and Up
Create a balancing beam from a plank of wood, or go to a playground where you can find this. Hold your child’s hand to help him walk across the beam. Let your child walk across the beam if he feels confident that he can do it himself.
This game develops your child’s sense of balance and eye-foot coordination.
It’s a good idea to let your child take the lead with play because children learn best when they’re interested in an activity. When you follow your child’s information, you can use your child’s interests to help your child learn something new through play. Looking for the best tables and chairs for a baby playroom? Look no further. My Baby Nursery has you covered.
If your child is having trouble with a play activity, you can ask what your child might do next to solve the problem, or you can gently offer ideas. For example, ‘Where else could that puzzle piece fit? Have you tried turning it the other way?’ And the celebrating effort will encourage your child to tackle new problems. For example, ‘Well done – you’ve found the right spot for it!