It might look to you as if your toddler is sleeping peacefully. But, under those closed eyes, the most extraordinary amount of brain activity is going on.
Between birth and the age of 5, your child’s brain is growing faster than at any other time during his or her life. Inside that cute little head, the brain is developing more neural pathways (channels for information) than it will ever need.
After the age of five, the brain starts to prune away the neural pathways that are surplus to requirements. If a neural pathway was not used, it will wither away.
In other words, after the age of six, your child’s capacity for learning slows down, and a skill that was not developed during the brain’s growing phase will be more difficult to learn later.
This is the window for a parent to teach the child the widest variety of skills and knowledge to create a well-rounded little person. Motor skills, emotional skills, learning skills, communication skills – a child that is taught while the brain is growing, will retain abilities into adulthood.
So… how do you make sure that your child gets the best foundation for success in the future? How can you grow your own little Einstein, Rachmaninov, Zuckerberg, Elon Musk, or Federer?
1. Fuel their brainpower with good food
The brain needs food to grow, and good brain food is just simply just good food. Eggs, peanut butter, wholegrains, oats, sardines and colorful veggies have been shown to provide the exact types of nutrients for the growing brain. Also, teaching a toddler to have healthy eating habits will set a lifelong pattern of good health. Snacks and junk food are okay as treats, not as staples.
2. Engage them with questions
The most important person in your child’s life is you. Talk to your child all the time. Explain what you are doing and why. Encourage questions and reasoning. When your child asks, “Why?”, reply with, “Why do you think?”. And if your child faces a problem, challenge or obstacle, encourage them to come up with their own suggestions for a solution.
3. Make plenty of time for play
Develop gross and fine motor skills through throwing and catching, batting and striking, running and jumping, cutting and pasting, drawing and coloring, building and decorating.
Whether they play on their own or with others, either option is as valuable. Playing with other children teaches empathy, sharing, dispute-resolution and teamwork, while playing alone teaches a child problem-solving, reasoning and analysis.
Ask your child to tell you a story to develop imaginative play, especially if they use props such as STEM toys. And always, always encourage daydreaming!
4. Develop discipline and encourage regular practise
Introduce deliberate skills development. Exposing your child to a second language lays the groundwork for further linguistics; playing mathematical games helps with maths learning; learning a musical instrument teaches fine motor skills and the analysis of musical rhythm; basic sport teaches major motor skills and teamwork and provides vital exercise; memory games are good for brain development.
The most important aspect of structured skills development is that it requires discipline and practice – two skills that your child will need throughout his or her life.
5. Invite them to experience something new
Explore and explain. Hobbies like gardening, looking after animals, travel, hiking, camping (even if just at the bottom of the garden), storybooks, putting on plays, dressing up, stargazing… the list of potential new experiences for a child is endless.
By exploring them, your child’s brain will retain those neural pathways, and – as a fortunate side effect – will bring your family closer together.
Finally, every parent wants their child to excel, but at the same time it is dangerous to put too much pressure on any child to perform, or to live your own life through your child. Just because you always wanted to be a ballet dancer, do not force your child into pointy shoes! Each child develops at their own pace. Remember that genius can lurk in unexpected places.
Guest post by Niki Moore.