Playing ‘I spy’ with your newborn in the supermarket will do wonders for their minds.
According to a new study, infants who are encouraged to interact with stimulating, brightly-colored surroundings have far stronger brains than their peers – even before they have learned to speak or babble.
The researchers in Washington, D.C., said parents should forget garbling at their newborns in baby speak.
Instead, they should walk their baby through the grocery aisle, telling them that broccoli is green, radishes are red, and tangerines are orange.
By pushing them to connect the dots between language and environment early on, they will lay the groundwork for a smooth running neural network, and maximize their potential brain power later on in life.
The report, published today, also breaks down how playing music and introducing them to new people can be key for a baby’s cognitive development.
The researchers in Washington, D.C., said parents should forget garbling at their newborns in baby speak. Instead, walk them around the supermarket describing the colors of the food
It was carried out by neuroscience researchers at Children’s National Health System, who were investigating how the brain’s circuit network develops over time.
The way a baby’s brain develops can impact a person’s cognitive function for the rest of their life.
Scores of studies have shown babies from lower-income families or impoverished backgrounds tend to have poorer cognitive development.
While this is down to many factors – from higher rates of illness to poorer education systems – these researchers have outlined simple techniques that all families can use to improve their child’s brain function, regardless of their socioeconomic status.
Brain development starts in the womb. This stage largely hinges on genetics, since there is little-to-no external stimuli.
Between 23 weeks and 37 weeks gestation, the fetus’s brain is forming the initial structure of white matter, a crucial part of the brain that controls learning.
These white matter regions are made up of communication cables called axons that link neurons throughout the brain.
The white color comes from myelin, the protective fatty sheath that coats nerve cells and helps nerve impulses speed from place to place.
Defects or breakages in the myelin sheaths can lead to many neurodevelopmental disorders. Most babies are born without damages.
Once infants are born, environmental experiences also can begin to exert a meaningful role.
‘The environment can be viewed as a noninvasive therapeutic approach that can be employed to bolster white matter health, either on its own or working in tandem with pharmacologic therapies,’ Dr Vittorio Gallo, Chief Research Officer at Children’s National and senior study author.
‘As it responds to environmental stimuli, the brain continually shores up myelin’s integrity.
‘It helps to strengthen motor and cognitive function and permits children and adults to learn new skills and to record new memories.’
The question is how to design the best environment for infants and children to grow and to achieve the highest cognitive function, he added.
‘An enriched environment not only involves the opportunity to move and participate in physical exercise and physical therapy; it is also an environment where there is novelty, new experiences and continuously active learning.
‘It is equally important to minimize social stressors. It’s all about the balance.’
Here are other ways to boost your newborn’s brain:
Expose children to new and different objects with an opportunity for physical activity and interaction with a number of playmates.
According to Dr Gallo’s team, this type of setting challenges the child to continuously adapt to his or her surroundings in a social, physical and experiential manner.
In experimental models, enriched environments supported brain health by increasing the volume and length of myelinated fibers, the volume of myelin sheaths and by boosting total brain volume.
Exposing newborns to music helps with cognition, hearing and motor skills.
It taps multiple areas of the brain to work together collaboratively.
Diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) reveals that professional pianists who began playing as children have improved white matter integrity and plasticity, Gallo and Forbes said.