A baby’s brain triples in size from birth to age two. Language development happens at a rapid rate, as do personality traits and coordination skills. But what happens after a child turns three? Those preschool years are still very important!
Instead of growing at such a fast rate, the brain slows down and begins making intricate connections between ages 3-5, developing and absorbing the world. There are problem-solving and negotiating skills happening throughout every day. The brain has needs, and if these needs are met, it can develop into its fullest potential.
One of the most important things to include in a preschooler’s daily life is a healthy diet. Proper nutrition feeds the brain. It can be easy to fall into a rut of the same easy foods that please picky eaters, but the brain needs certain nutrients to thrive. Including foods or supplements containing the following will ensure that your child’s nutritional needs are being met:
• Choline (eggs, nuts)
• Antioxidants (berries, spinach)
• B Vitamins (chicken, green vegetables, bananas)
• Vitamin D (sunshine, cod liver oil, salmon, tuna, raw milk)
• Fats (avocado, healthy oils)
• Omegas (fish, fish oil)
• Iron (grass-fed beef, black beans, raisens)
When all else fails, look for colorful foods that are not enhanced by mankind! Limit or exclude Scary Seven ingredients like food dyes, processed items, and non-natural occurring sugars. These are all linked to learning struggles and behavior issues.
So how else can parents help boost their preschooler’s brain development? There are five simple activities that you can do daily that will get the job done.
1. Open-Ended Imaginative Play: This type of play includes dress-up, play kitchen cooking, play dough, collecting and building with rocks or blocks, and anything that takes creativity. There are no rules put in place and no directions given. Imagination is king and there is no wrong way to play. Letting the brain ‘go with the flow’ and think outside of the typically structured box increases curiosity, critical thinking skills, problem solving skills, and decision-making skills. Young children will involve parents naturally in this type of play, which then increases conversational skills and personal interactions.
2. Hands-On, Sensory Learning: Sensory play can be structured or unstructured, but is best when little more than simple rules (or boundaries) are given. Bath time water play, sand play, bubbles, feathers, and the list of possible sensory play-items is only as short as your own imagination. Allowing a toddler to engage her senses promotes positive nerve connections and allows the mind to better accept and understand textures, smells, and sounds. When a child has the ability to explore the senses, there is a higher probability she will be able to focus and find ways to calm herself in stressful situations.
3. Reading and Quiet Time: There can never be too much reading. You can never have too many books. Toddlers surrounded by books are statistically more inclined to having a higher IQ, as their parents are more likely to read to them often. A toddler should not be instructed on how to read, or even made to memorize the phonetic sounds of the letters. Instead, the time should be used to allow the imagination to grow. Reading comprehension is beginning at this age, and a toddler can grasp storylines, characters, problems, and solutions to stories. It is hard, but as a parent, it is more important to ask open-ended questions and spark a love of being read to, than it is to teach the ABC’s. This reading time should be done in a quiet atmosphere with few others present. The least amount of distraction, the better. A toddler may include her stuffed animals, siblings, or pets in on story time; all of which are wonderful company!
4. Real-Life Experiences: Society tends to make parents believe that toddlers are not capable of much more than tantrums and playdates, but the truth is that a three-year-old is more than capable of helping to set the table, clean up, cook, or help get the mail. She can hand a cashier money, make tough choices at the store, and add her opinion to shopping lists. Experiencing real life situations allows a toddler to become aware of self and of surroundings. The brain processes these discoveries and becomes a stronger unit with the body. A confident toddler will lead to a confident child, ready to explore and take on what the world has to offer.
5. Structured play: Structured play is the most common type of play utilized by parents and teachers. While it is nowhere near as important as the above noted activities, it is still needed in moderation. Life has rules, even when meant to be challenged. Puzzles, games with specific rules, and most toys are all included in this category. Sports teams and group activities also land themselves here. The brain is a structured and intricate organ, and most children thrive off a structured routine – to a point. Too much structure breaks a spirit, ruins a passion, disrupts development, and defeats a child. So, the key is to utilize this play in moderation.
Something important to keep in mind is how much a preschooler needs time with his parents. One-on-one time creates a trust and bond that promotes security, comfort, and happiness. These translate into independence and confidence in the future. Being with a parent trumps all activities and other organized events. The brain is absorbing everything around the child at this age, but the emotional intelligence is also expanding. This interaction should be ‘technology free,’ one-on-one, fully present, and unconditionally accepting. Taking the time every day to relate to and interact with your preschooler will be the most important thing you do.
About the Author:
Elizabeth is a researcher, author, and content writer for My Baby’s Heartbeat Bear – a leading online store for unique pregnancy gifts and manufacturer of plush toys; stuffed giraffes, sloth stuffed animals and much more. She spends her days as the ringleader of a never-tiring circus; one full of tightrope walkers, nerf-gun shooters, mess makers, and danger-seekers. Find out the do’s and don’ts and other important things about pregnancy on our latest pregnancy blog.