“Not all classrooms have walls”Unknown
The holiday season is packed with family festivities and shopping sprees. In the midst of all the fun, we might find ourselves struggling to balance daily obligations with work commitments and gift wrapping. That is when prioritizing quality time with our kids gets pushed aside, as children across the nation are falling further and further behind in acquiring life long skills essential for academic success.
As we enter this beautiful and cozy time of year, ask yourself what is really important. How can we merge the world of adult responsibilities with our children’s needs when all we have is a 24 hour day? When all that we really want to do is cuddle with our children by the fire and read to them their favorite book, with the dog by our side.
As a neuroscientist mom of a 6 year girl, I spend most of my days coming up with creative teachable moments to expand her mind while trying to balance everything else.
How can we integrate our children’s need for daily nurturing and enrichment with our “to do” list? To start off, we need to block out dedicated time for your child, just like we do for grocery shopping and exercise. Even if your young child is already be in a school program or is lucky enough to have family around, the parents are still the child’s main influence. As parents, we shape the child’s development more than any other caregiver through loving interactions.
So go ahead and put the “to do” lists aside and join me for this brief article to discover the 6 unique ways to give your child the time and attention that they crave while staying on top of your game this holiday season.
1. Narrate Your Life Story
Our life is made up of a sequence of events, interwoven into the colorful tapestry which makes up a person’s life story. When your child is born, explain everything in your world. Talk about the smelly diaper changes, the beautiful sunshine outside and how long it takes to make them their favorite meal. When the child is older, immerse them in the awe and wonder surrounding them. Discuss the colors of the fallen leaves on a nature walk and why the family dog is barking at the mailman.
Child development experts agree that listening to correct sentence structure and grammar, along with diverse vocabulary, effects how brain language centers develop in children. Since the brain areas responsible for language processing communicate with higher thinking brain regions, your child is performing mental gymnastics when they hear you talk! Narrating how our complex world works provides a simple yet effective way to engage with your child and boost brain development in many facets of life.
2. Answer ALL of their Questions
There is no escaping the barrage of incoming questions from young children: Why can I see the moon during the day? What do birds eat? And the all-time favorite, how many cookies can I eat without feeling sick?
While it may get tiresome at times, keep in mind the end result: to nurture that child-like curiosity that is so often lost by the time they reach early adulthood.
Curiosity gave us the world’s greatest inventions including Edison’s light bulb and the Henry’s automatic ice-cream freezer. Now stop to think – where would the world be without an ice-cream maker?
No, you don’t have to know all of the answers. After all, we live in the technological age where Google can answer your child’s question faster than they can ask it. In fact, admitting that you don’t know an answer teaches your child a valuable lesson in humility. You can even turn it around on them and ask: “What do you think?” But whatever you do, don’t ignore your child’s inquiries. Nurture their spirit of curiosity! According to the latest research, engaging your child in conversation is one of the best things that you can do to nurture and develop the growing brain.
3. Expose Children to Music
Music is a powerful tool for cognitive development. It is the universal heart beat, uniting people across cultures and races. Music ignites our imagination and fills us with emotion.
In young children, music helps with self-expression and emotional regulation. It soothes babies to sleep and can ameliorate a child’s mood. The next time your child is on the verge of a meltdown, try playing their favorite song and watch as their frown melts into a smile.
Music making is the ultimate brain exercise! Brain regions must work together integrating incoming sound with coordinated hand movements, all while watching the ensemble members and keeping a steady beat. Studies in preschoolers have shown that keeping a steady beat correlates with greater future reading ability and predicts academic success. This may not be too surprising, considering that musical structure is similar to spoken language.
Play music or sing with your child often. In the car, play an upbeat song and have your child join in as both of you keep the beat by tapping with your hands. Sing children nursery rhymes together on the way to an activity. It is the ultimate bonding time listening to your favorite songs.
Find out more on how music shapes the developing brain and what you can do today to jump start your child on their musical journey.
4. Model Appropriate Behaviors
Your child is always watching you. If you have a pet, then you know what I am talking about. A pair of eyes is always following your every move!
You are your child’s best role model so lead by example. Demonstrate kindness, love and respect to everyone and always do the right thing. This is especially important during the early years (ages 0-8 of child brain development), when the brain is highly receptive to learning. Refer to the sensitive period chart above to determine at what age child development each life skill can be acquired.
Have your child sit by you and play or work quietly as you practice your musical instrument or bake the neighbors a cake. Mother Nature gave us mirror neurons in our brains – these specialized cells become active when we perform an action and when we watch another person perform an action. The evolutionary advantage of learning through observation allows us to understand others’ intentions and avoid their mistakes.
Children are master imitators, learning by soaking in knowledge from their environment. Set your personal standards high and watch as your child surpasses your wildest expectations!
5. Transform Your Car into a Portable Classroom
Travel time, when used wisely, can earn you the equivalent of a degree! No, we are not encouraging your child to listen to audio business lectures, but we are suggesting working with your child during car rides.
Play games where you can count together the number of cars going by and “I Spy” where you guess the object the other person is looking at to develop a bigger vocabulary.
Children also love hearing stories. Bond with them through story telling where each person adds a line to a story to develop imagination (the more outrageous the story, the better). You can also tell real life funny stories. My daughter’s favorite is hearing about all of the tricks my classmates and I used to play on our Elementary school teacher. These might sound like silly little games to you, but they mean so much to your child.
6. Make Your Child a Part of the Tribe
Our ancestors had it right. Children growing up on the African plains played an essential role in guaranteeing the tribe’s future success. Toddlers would follow their mom on a food gathering excursion and watch dad as he sharpened his hunting knife. Teaching key survival skills to a young child is an investment, benefiting the tribe for years to come.
Nowadays, your child’s world consists of peer and adult communities. Whether it is at the local school, at home or in an after school enrichment program, children have an altruistic drive to contribute to their tribes.
It has been shown that a child spends the majority of their time at home with their family. Help your child become a contributing member of the home tribe by giving them age-appropriate household tasks that teach practical life skills. Feeding the family pet, gathering 5 apples at the grocery store and mailing a letter encourage independence, boost self-esteem and develop a sense of belonging. It is an effective way of passing on important family values, building a strong work ethic and establishing the social-emotional bonds which are at the core of happy and healthy brain development.
Take a deeper look at this practical guide to positive parenting with great wisdom gathered from civilizations around the world.
Nourish and enrich your child as you gracefully move through the day. By showing your child how to engage with their world, you can help them reach their fullest developmental potential.
Thank you for being a super parent! We are grateful for your commitment to your child’s success. Now go out there and give on-the-go teaching a try. It is the small and incremental effort done overtime that make the biggest difference!
Have any of these on-the-go tricks made a difference for you and your child? Please let us know.
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Wishing you all the best on your journey!
Language Exposure Relates to Structural Neural Connectivity in Childhood
Rhythm and Melody Tasks for School-Aged Children With and Without Musical Training
Beat Synchronization Predicts Neural Speech Encoding and Reading Readiness in Preschoolers
From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development