The brain is the only organ in the body that continues to grow, develop and change what it does throughout your baby’s life. Before birth, a master blueprint specifies the location and function of brain cells, organs and other physical structures. Once the baby is born, development changes into the never-ending interactive processes of growth. Researchers, such as those working with the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard call this process “serve and return.”
Think of it as being like building a house: Before birth all of the materials for construction are purchased; after birth, the mixing of the mortar, the way the rooms are painted, the exterior look, the use of each room, and the furniture are decided. And, there are infinite opportunities to remodel during the process.
It is the job of a consistent and sensitive circle of adults—mom, dad, grandma, teacher – to help the baby’s brain to determine which pathways are most important. The brain is soaking in information while the baby is waiting for a bottle, reading a book, and playing peek-a-boo. Brain cells are just waiting to be connected with other brain cells, to be organized and put to use.
Serve and return is keenly important for language development and school readiness. Hearing and responding to language are everyday activities that require interactions with caring adults who speak about 20,000 words a day directly to the baby! Research has found that reading-based activities boost the quality of language heard by very young children. This points to the benefit of reading books throughout the day.
And, most importantly give the baby lots of opportunity to respond. Taking turns speaking – with words, actions or sounds- allows the baby to copy and share ideas. The goal is to build up to 18 turn-taking sessions by the age of 3. Think about conversations at mealtime, diaper changing, unstructured and outdoor playtime, and going to the grocery store. These are all rich opportunities for language interactions.
Don’t feel silly talking to a baby – describe everything! Your helping her to build her brain and future!