Since my oldest was a baby, I’ve often thought about the neural pathways developing in the brains of small children. Research tells us that 90% of the brain, including neural pathways, are formed by the age of 5 and 80% of that happens before they even turn 3!
I like to explain neural pathways like this. Your brain is like a closet. Inside the closet you have room to hang your clothes (information). Whenever you want to add new clothing (information), you have to add a hanger or hook. The hangers or hooks on the rack of your closet (brain) are the neural pathways. These provide a way for your brain to process, understand, and store new information by connecting it to the information already in there.
So new information on any topic or skill we need to learn is assimilated by attaching it to a neural pathway containing information put there before you turned 5. That’s why the concept being promoted by First 5 California called Talk. Read. Sing.® It changes everything. is so important.
As parents, we have a responsibility to help our child form the neural pathways in their brain which they will need for an entire lifetime. Talking, singing, and reading to your child are things that work those brain muscles, build those hooks, and set your child up for a lifetime of success.
Talk to your child.
Children respond to speech from before birth in ways we don’t even understand. Babies are born knowing the voice of MOM and finding comfort in it and often also recognize Dad’s voice. Very little soothes a child like the crooning voice of his mommy. So from the beginning, our children develop a love for hearing speech. Every opportunity we take to talk to our babies, toddlers, and preschool children is an opportunity for them to create hooks (neural pathways) in their brains about every new thing around them.
Once I got over my initial embarrassment, I found lots of opportunities to talk to our small children. I can talk about life as it happens, essentially narrating our days, story style. I can describe the things we see, hear, and smell in great detail. I can ask questions and answer (even unspoken) questions about the world around us as we encounter it.
So — talk about what you see on the road as you drive. Talk about the food you are preparing as you cook it. Talk about the colors and textures of the toys you play with. Just talk.
You’ll get used to it.
Read to your child.
Since little ones are already primed to love hearing our voice — enjoy a good book. Or two or three or five. Or the same one over and over and over. This process of reading stories and repeating stories makes the brain work hard, but is also purely enjoyable. Some of my fondest memories include introducing our babies to The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Goodnight Gorilla, and even God’s Word.
When one of my children was about 9 months old, she wanted me to read Goodnight Gorilla every night, over and over and over. I thought it was all about the animals. She couldn’t talk much due to developmental delays, but at about 18 months she finally opened up and unraveled the mystery of her attraction to that book.
“Me, I’m the GORILLA!” she cried with delight after I finished reading the story for the umpteenth time that night. And it was true. It didn’t matter that I faithfully placed her in the crib each night, and faithfully trained her to fall asleep there — she always somehow ended up in my bed before morning. I will never forget that precious moment when my sweet little girl identified and empathized with a character in a book.
Sing to your child.
Since before my first baby was born, I have witnessed the power of music in the lives of infants and children. Each week during the last four months of my pregnancy I went to choir practice on Monday nights with Ann Arbor Cantata Singers and we were working on a complicated Mozart piece with 12-part harmony and a lot of musical movement. That precious little baby inside me would move or “dance” more during those 2 hours on Monday nights than at any other time!
Once we brought her home from the hospital, we found music to be the most effective way to calm her in my absence. Her dad would sit at the keyboard with her and play music and sing to her nearly every evening. I would pace and sing to her for hours when her stomach was colicky. We would play rhythm games where I would tap on her hands and feet “to the beat” as we sang fun preschool songs like Old McDonald and important songs like Amazing Grace. And evenings alway concluded with 30 minutes or more of songs, hymns, and lullabies.
As my first grew and we added more children to the mix, we found other ways to celebrate music together. We bought preschool songs from Cedarmont Kids and played those on every car ride. We sang together often as we went about our daily life. We even sang our conversations opera style! Music was (and still is) integral to our days.
Talk. Read. Sing.® It Changes Everything.
Before your child can even talk, you can be enjoying these activities together and stimulating brain development at the same time! The experts at First 5 California refer to the brain as a muscle that needs exercise – and that means “working out” through talking, reading, and singing regularly. And the kind of brain stimulation your child gets from Talk. Read. Sing.® is far more healthy than the type of brain stimulation achieved from electronics, television, and videos. This is something that needs to be done.
First 5 California website is a great resource for moms who want to find activities for their newborns, babies, toddlers, and preschoolers. There’s a whole section called the First Five California Activity Center on things that parents can do with their kids to help stimulate the mind. I really loved the preschool suggestions!