3 Things to Do at Breakfast with Your Baby

Current research tells us that the first years of a baby's life are critical for his or her brain development. You can read in the latest edition of our Data Book all about synapses, neurons, and the pruning of connections in the first 3 years of life and how these things affect a child's later experiences. That research is valuable and those facts are important, but mothers need application. How can a mom create experiences for her own baby that will encourage his cognitive development? How can she take this rich data and use it in her home? The simplest way to do this is to employ the "Touch,Talk, Read, Play" strategy in her daily routine. Let's start with breakfast.

1. Sensory Tubs

Looking around Pinterest, you'll see an abundance of "sensory activities" being posted. These provide young children a hands-on, messy playtime experience with real life in a contained environment. All that's needed are a container, a "sensory environment" (water, dry rice or noodles, oats, sand, anything age-appropriate that can be scooped, dug, and poured), and objects to manipulate in that "sensory environment" (spoons, cups, funnels, trucks, plastic animals, anything safe and interesting for younger children).

Set up a sensory tub for your toddler in her high chair after breakfast, allowing her time to play while you are near. Find a large bowl or a food storage container, fill it a quarter of the way with water, add some basic kitchen utensils, and let your baby explore. Show her how to scoop the water, how to pour it, how to splash in it with her hands. Playing in the sensory tub will allow her to use her senses to experiment with the water and the objects in it. If the idea of water all over your floor doesn't appeal to you (messes will happen), you might try dry macaroni noodles instead. Just vacuum when you're all done.

2. Pincer Grasp

Often little ones will use a whole hand to grab anything of interest, even if just a thumb and finger would suffice. As your baby ages, it is a good idea to work on fine motor skills, teaching him to "focus" on an object and pick it up with just the thumb and finger. A great way to practice this is with cereal (especially the small round kind).

Put a handful of cereal on the high chair tray, scattered around so that it is less tempting to grab it all up in a bunch, and guide him to pick up one at a time. Try pointing to one, saying "Can you pick up this one?" Now, he's listening, looking, and thinking all at the same time. Positively engaging with him as he learns will strengthen those connections in his brain. Be sure to praise him for all of his effort. This is hard work!

3. "Where's the spoon?"

Another aspect of cognitive development for little ones is the simple notion of "object permanence," or learning that a covered-up object did not really disappear. This can be done easily at breakfast time by laying a napkin over her spoon and asking, "Where's the spoon?" Show her how to lift the napkin and say, "There's the spoon!" Playing this simple game with her will help to develop her memory, her language skills, and show her that she can make things happen.

Moms, dads, and caregivers have a unique opportunity to combine what we learn about brain research and what we know about our babies to do simple things at home to "make them smarter." Simple learning activities are great, but the most important variable is YOU. The key in each of the activities above is an engaged adult. Touching, talking, reading, and playing with your little one are some of the most meaningful ways to encourage brain development in the early years. Remember, though, repetition is key in strengthening these connections in the brain, so be sure to make these strategies a part of your everyday parenting. You play the most important role in ensuring your baby's best future. Enjoy it!