Three-month-old Rubi sits in her baby seat looking at her mom. Rubi’s eyes focus on mom. She smiles and coos. Mom responds by singing to her baby. The baby’s lips move, and her mouth widens. The tone of Rubi’s cooing changes as she joins mom’s singing. She stops and listens as mom finishes the chorus.
Here is why singing, talking and reading to your baby is so important.
- The brain is unlike other organs in the body.
Like other organs, during pregnancy, a genetic “blueprint” guides the core structure of the brain. The location of the physical structures is pretty much the same in every person.
But unlike the heart or kidneys, the brain is not prepared at birth to operate the same way each day. The brain is the only organ in the body that continues to grow, develop and change in how it functions throughout your baby’s life.
- The brain is experience dependent.
Once a baby is born, brain development is an almost never-ending interactive process of growth. The brain is primed to respond to the information it receives from the environment into which the baby is born. Brain cells are just waiting to be connected with other brain cells, to be organized and put to use.
Think of it as being like building a house: Before birth, the purchase and framing of materials for construction happens. After birth, there is the mixing of the mortar, painting of the rooms, designing the landscaping and arranging of furniture. And, there are infinite opportunities to decorate and remodel during the process.
So, the baby’s brain after birth is soaking in design information. While waiting for a bottle, reading a book, and playing peek-a-boo, brain cells are connecting. The baby’s brain depends on experience.
- Language development depends on you!
The newborn brain can learn to speak any world language. It is primed to recognize and reproduce the familiar sounds. The spoken words heard by the baby directly influence the brain’s development. And, this happens well in advance of the baby’s first word.
Mom, dad, grandma, and teachers all contribute to the baby’s brain and language development. By the time a baby is ten months old, the baby babbles with sounds differentiated by the spoken language of the parents. Babies of Spanish-speaking parents babble differently than children of English speaking parents.
- Hearing more than one language has brain benefits.
For the brain’s efficiency, familiar sounds reinforce neural pathways. The brain commits to the sounds of the spoken language. The pathways for sounds not present in the baby’s everyday language are not strengthened and wither.
For example, language researchers show that a young baby hearing home caregivers speaking Japanese can tell the difference between sounds not in the Japanese language. But by 8 to 10 months of age, the child is unable to notice the difference between the sounds of r and l. Japanese speakers who learn English as older children or adults have difficulty pronouncing words like “rule” like a native English speaker.
Not only is exposure to language essential, exposure to more than one language is beneficial. The brains of bilingual children, hearing two languages in social interactions and daily exposures, show more flexibility. The researchers believe that this is a result of daily exposure to various phonemes that reinforce more neural pathways.
- The number and variety of words spoken directly to the baby matter.
Studies show that children who hear more than 1000- 2000 words per hour are also at an advantage. Children who hear lots of words daily are more likely to be early talkers, have a higher IQ and perform better in school.
Talk. Talk. Talk. Narrate your actions to the baby. Or, describe to your child what your child is doing or seeing. Create songs about driving, walking outside, or while doing chores.
- Books increase the variety of words children hear.
Reading books is a great way to boost the quality of language and the number of words the baby hears. To make it easy for you, place baskets of books next to the rocker, high chair, changing table, and in the play area. Grab a book and read! It is okay if the baby doesn’t understand all of the words. The sounds you make while reading are directly reaching the neurons in the baby’s brain.
Don’t feel silly talking to a baby — describe everything! You’re helping build your child’s brain and future!
Dr. Terrie Rose is a child psychologist working to transform the way adults understand the emotional development of children. www.drterrierose.com