Your home is your baby’s first classroom, and what he learns there can affect how he performs in school—all the way to fifth grade!
That’s the word from researchers at New York University’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development. In a study, they found that infants and toddlers who are given the right tools and lots of attention at home are more likely to develop early cognitive skills that can lead to academic success.
The study was published online in the journal Applied Developmental Science.
The good news, of course, is that pricy, high-tech toys are not required. In fact, simple playthings (we bet you already have them on hand!) offer tons of opportunities for learning. And best of all: interacting with your baby brings the biggest benefits, no matter what toy he’s playing with. It’s as easy as one, two, three!
1. Offer fun, age-appropriate learning materials Look for toys, games, and activities that encourage free expression, imagination, fine motor skills practice, and an opportunity to learn letters and numbers. That means:
- Books and magazines
- Crayons, paints, and other art materials
- Pretend play toys, such as dolls, toddler-sized kitchens and tools, cars, stuffed animals, dress-up materials, and so on
- Wooden and/or interlocking blocks
- Activities and toys that require counting, matching, or sorting
2. Play with your baby
Read those books together. Create arts-and-crafts projects. Follow her lead as she cooks in her kitchen, builds with blocks, or makes repairs with her tiny tools. The goal is twofold: First, be sensitive to your child’s interests and needs. What toys does she love? What stories does she want to tell you? Listen closely and play along! Second, jump on opportunities to teach her skills. You might say, “You are building a tall tower! I’ll put a small one next to it.” That’s all it takes to introduce the concept of big and small, and to engage with her as she plays. You also can count how many blocks are in the tower (to teach counting) or ask her if she can make a tower with just red blocks or just blue ones (to teach colors).
3. Talk to your baby
This one’s simple, but oh so powerful! Sing songs and read books together, and narrate everything that’s happening around you and your baby. It’s new to him, and all this chatter helps him develop and grow. The best learning happens when you:
- Acknowledge and respond to your baby’s sounds or requests. Even if you can’t understand or give him what he wants, you can be sensitive to his attempts at communicating. For example, say, “I wonder if you want to pet the kitty. She’s eating right now, so we’ll pet her a little later. Her fur is very soft!”
- Label the people, places, and things around him so he can learn new words.
- Encourage your baby to talk by asking him questions (be sure to wait and give him a chance to answer) and giving him your attention when he tries to talk.
- Speak clearly yourself, and go ahead and use long words and complex sentence structure. Skip the baby talk; your baby is ready for bigger and better things!