The cognitive skills your little pioneer needs for future success
Did you know that 90% of brain development occurs in the first five years of a child’s life?1 According to early childhood expert, Dr Pam Schiller, this development begins long before birth. She says, “The brain begins building the neural connections for everything – from breathing and sight to the ability to speak, think and reason. Although the structure is in place, it will be up to the environment to strengthen and grow the pathways.”2
That means nutrition and parental stimulation play a crucial role. Your child’s diet will lay the groundwork for well-rounded development, while stimulation helps to strengthen the connections within your baby’s brain to encourage cognitive, emotional, motor and communication skills – all part of being a thriving little person.
According to Dr Schiller, there are specific windows of opportunity during which the brain is particularly efficient at learning.3 For example, she says “children are most receptive to learning thinking skills, such as cause and effect, and problem solving in the first two years of life.”4
So what can you do as a parent to these little pioneers to encourage cognitive development and learning? Whether you have a budding artist, a cutting edge scientist, an inspirational teacher or potential musician in the family there are many things you can do to help build your little one’s brilliant brain for the future.
Helping your child on their learning journey
Kickstart their learning: After 6 months – 1 year
After 6 months your baby will start to become fascinated by the world around her. You’ll notice that she tries to reach for things that are out of her reach or seem “impossible”, like a hanging mobile where toys are suspended in mid-air.5 From 9 months to 12 months, your baby will start imitating you and repeating gestures and actions.6 This helps them to understand the world and every single new thing their brain is processing. Help them by completing an action, like hitting a drum with a stick and passing them the stick to repeat and copy you.
A growing understanding: 1-2 years
During his second year you will notice your child identifying objects that are similar to each other and learning the difference between the words “me” and “you”. He’ll be more self-aware and excited to point out familiar people and objects in picture books.7
How can you help?
Point at yourself when you say “me” and at your child when you say “you”. Ask your child to identify noises he hears: the doorbell, the washing machine or birds outside. This is also the time to count, so count everything! Count how many items you buy at the store. Count how many toys are in their toy box. Count the number of animals on a page in a book.8
Learning to be more like you: 2-3 years
Generally from 2 years old, children will start to identify themselves by name when looking in the mirror. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, this is the age when they begin to appreciate pretend play and it starts to become more complex9. She might start with sipping from a toy cup and eventually evolve to hosting tea parties for her teddy bears!
How can you help?
Get them to help you! Doing the laundry? Ask them to help match socks. These daily activities are rich learning experiences for your little pioneer and help them develop practical skills like sorting, counting and organizing.
The “Why?” Years: 3-4 years
By this stage your little one’s brain is trying to understand absolutely everything. He may be asking lots of “why?” questions. He’ll also be able to sort objects by size, type or colour, listen to instructions and have a longer attention span (up to 10 minutes) and show an awareness of the past and present.10
How can you help?
Help build their memories by asking about their day yesterday and recalling activities. Offer a variety of things to play with, read, create or build.
A new world of learning: 4-5 years
During the first five years your little one’s brain is action-packed and by now they are becoming more confident, particularly if they are starting school. Many will be familiar with the alphabet and recognise numbers from 1 to 10, are able to draw the shape of a person and identify names and colours.11
How can you help?
Fuel their imagination by listening to their stories. At this age they have a natural love of repetition which dovetails into the use of familiar words. Keep counting and read, read, read.
Most of all, don’t worry; every child develops at their own rate and may meet these milestones at slightly different times. This is normal and this is what will make your trailblazer of tomorrow so individual.
Feeding little brains
Healthy brain development requires healthy food at every age. A versatile and nutritious diet is key, particularly foods rich in protein which enable growing brains to gain more mass.12 Amino acids make neurotransmitters, which allow brain cells to communicate with each other. This is key to your little pioneer’s cognitive development.13
Fats are also necessary for the development of your child’s central nervous system, vision and intelligence as they surround the nerve cells in the brain and protect it.14
Support their learning journey through nutrition and stimulation
Nutrition and stimulation play an equally important role in supporting healthy brain development at every stage.