Children are, quite literally, born learning. Experiences in your child’s early years, even as a newborn, help build the foundation for future growth and development. Our greatest challenge – and our greatest opportunity – as parents and caregivers is to make sure that the everyday experiences of the little ones in our lives are positive, nurturing and set the stage for a lifetime of healthy growth and development.

But how do we do this? Parents, grandparents, and caregivers each play an important role in promoting early learning and healthy development by fostering positive, nurturing relationships. Relationships with parents and primary caregivers are a critical underpinning for children to achieve developmental milestones.

Most of a child’s experiences involve relationships with caregivers. Babies are born eager for this interaction. They want to connect with you right from the beginning. This emotional connection and bonding helps give them the confidence that they need to learn. Current research shows that children who receive lots of love and attention as infants actually learn better. From the very first moments of life with a baby, the love and attention that you share will lay the groundwork for future growth, development and learning.

Everyday interactions offer the comfort and security that help promote learning:

  • Give lots of love and affection: It is impossible to spoil a baby with too much love and affection. Giving a child love and attention helps her feel relaxed and happy, which in turn promotes her confidence and intellectual development.
  • Provide a predictable world: Providing routines and consistent responses gives a child the sense that the world is trustworthy and teaches him that he can depend on you.
  • Create opportunities for fun: Children learn a lot through play. Activities that most encourage a child’s brain to grow are those that she is interested in and enjoys. If she is forced to participate in activities that do not hold her interest, she will tune out.
  • Read, talk and sing to your baby: Sounds are the building blocks of speech and language and a newborn brain is especially interested in sounds. Let your baby hear your voice as much as possible.
  • Respond to your baby’s needs: By responding to your baby’s needs, you teach him that you care and that he can trust you to read his signals.
  • Give time to process new information: Beware of over-stimulation. If a child is exposed to a lot of new information without time to digest and process it, she will tune out or break down.

Other ways for you to support your child’s early learning:

Parents are their children’s first and most important teachers and playmates. One of the things you can do to promote early learning and give your child the best possible start is to engage in play.

Play is an important way for children to learn about the world around them while developing important emotional, social and intellectual skills. Through play, children learn to problem-solve, cooperate, negotiate, take turns and share.

There is no right or wrong way for children to play. What’s important is that your child has safe toys in a safe environment and is encouraged to experiment, learn, express herself, connect with others and make sense of her surroundings.

To engage your child in play:

  1. Observe. Watch your child closely to learn what she can do and what she has problems doing. Take note of your child’s mood, favorite activities, etc.
  2. Follow. Join in and play with your child so that he knows you’re
    interested in what he is doing. Follow your child’s lead by letting her be in control and determine the direction of play.
  3. Be creative. Don’t limit yourself with the notion that there is only one way to play a game or with a toy. Be creative and encourage make believe – come up with imaginative games and use toys in different ways. This will make playing more fun for you and your child.

Other tips to keep in mind:

  • Take a break. Solitary play gives your child time to process and understand everything that he has been doing.
  • Participate enthusiastically. Encourage your child’s imagination, confidence and creativity by wholeheartedly playing along with her games.
  • Watch out for over-stimulation. It’s important to stop playing when your baby is no longer interested. Your baby will tell you when he’s had enough play by disengaging, turning his head, or starting to cry.

Adapted from www.bornlearning.org