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Brain Building Tips

Vroom distils early learning research into bite-size activities that support children’s brain growth from birth to age five. With the backing of the Bezos Family Foundation, vroom.org was developed by a group of dedicated scientists, community leaders and trusted brands, with input from community organisations and families, early childhood experts and neuroscientists.

Dressing Play

Even if your child doesn’t seem to understand, tell him/her everything you’re doing as you get him/her ready in the morning. Start with how you picked his/her clothes and go from there. Make eye contact and respond back to the sounds he/she makes.

Think of yourself as a sports announcer—one who responds back with sounds and faces. These back and forth conversations are helping your child bond with you and begin to associate words with his/her experiences.

Peekaboo

Grab whatever is nearby, like a blanket, a book, or your hands, and use it to play Peekaboo with your child. First you hide behind it and then say “Peekaboo!” Next, let your child be the hider.

Peekaboo helps your child learn that you're still there, even when you're hiding. But most of all, it's fun! Your face and voice are your child’s favorite toys.

Copy Cat

Like you, children experience many different emotions every day. Make faces that mirror how your child seems to be feeling. Talk to him/her about why you're making those faces. “You are smiling and seem happy, and I am smiling and happy too.”

When you imitate the face that your child makes, you help him/her express what he/she thinks and feels even though he/she can't speak yet. These "conversations without words" begin to help your child learn about others’ feelings and emotions!

Words All Round

Your child learns best from what you say and do, so read everything you can out loud. Read signs outside, recipes, or ads in a magazine. Be sure to point! Does your child imitate any of your words or sounds? Does he/she point, too? Go back and forth with him/her, pointing and reading out loud. 

By introducing your child to different types of things to read, you help him/her make the earliest connections between written words and what they stand for. This kind of back and forth conversation, even before your child has words, is building his/her communication skills. 

Sound Off

Turn waiting for an appointment into a Sound Off. Make different sounds like a whisper, peep, ding, or roar. Pause after each sound so your child can respond. Does he/she smile? Look at you? Make a sound himself/herself? Try a new sound. Keep going back and forth!

This back and forth conversation with sounds gives your child practice listening and helps him/her learn to notice differences in sounds, the foundation for language development and communicating with others. 

 

In The Bag

Before you go to an appointment, grab some safe things for your child to play with and put them in a bag. While you’re waiting, reach into the bag and talk about what you find. “This is a teething ring for you to chew on. Here’s a rattle for you to hold. Let’s shake it!”

Talking about what’s In the Bag is interesting to your child and will help him/her build his/her vocabulary and his/her brain. Speak in full sentences. It's okay to use words that your child doesn't know yet. That's how he/she learns!

 

Singing Time, Calming Time

As you’re putting your child to bed rock him/her gently and sing softly to him/her. Pay attention to how he/she tells you he/she wants more singing. Does he/she turn his/her head toward you? Smile? Move? What does he/she do to say “enough”? Cry? Turn away? Take note of how to respond to his/her cues now and in the future! 

Singing to your child before bedtime is like a calming conversation using music. You sing, he/she responds, you respond etc. He/She is learning how it feels to calm himself/herself, which is an important life lesson. 

Where's Your Hand?

Put one of your child’s socks on his/her left hand, saying, “Where’s your hand?” How does he/she respond? Wave his/her hand? Look at it? Next, put it on the right hand. Does he/she respond in the same way or do anything differently?

As your child discovers the answer to “Where’s your hand?” he/she is practicing paying attention. Your child is also practicing controlling his/her hands and fingers. Focusing is an important skill in learning.

Name That Sound

When you’re in the park, pause and ask your child to Name That Sound! Take turns guessing. Are you hearing children playing or a dog barking? The squeak of a swing or the chirp of a bird? Point out that some things, like ants, don’t make sounds.

When playing Name That Sound, you’re inviting your child to focus on hearing the differences in sounds and figuring out what they are. This is an important skill for enjoying and learning language that will help your child communicate with others. 

Lid Match

Find containers around the house with different covers, like a pot and a lid, a shoebox and its top, and an empty plastic bottle with a cap. Encourage your child to match the lids with the containers and then to try putting the tops on and taking them off again. As he/she gets better at matching, give him/her more lids and containers. 

When your child works to match lids and containers, he/she is focusing, tuning out distractions, and using what he/she already knows to make connections and problem solve. You help your child build these skills when you encourage him/her to test out ideas and come up with his/her own answers. 

Slow Dance

Play your favorite slow song and hold your child while you dance together. How does he/she respond to the feeling of dancing? What about the sound of the music? Respond to what he/she does. Laugh if he/she laughs! Enjoy this special moment. 

Dancing together is a back and forth conversation—using movement not words—that deepens the connection between you two. It also allows your child to use his/her senses—hearing, touch, sound, sight—his/her primary way of learning about the world at this age. 

 

Babble On

Don’t be afraid to babble. When your child starts to make noises, treat it like a real conversation and mimic the sounds right back. See how many times you can go back and forth!

All kinds of “conversations” help to build children’s brains—even when they’re still learning how to talk. By following your child’s lead and responding, you spark the connections he/she needs for language and communication later on.

Dance Party

Your child may not be walking or talking yet, but with your help, they can definitely boogie. So turn on some music and hold your child as you dance around. When you sit down together, shake your arms to the music and see if your child can do the same!

Paying attention to sounds and movements is an early step in listening for sounds—a reading skill.

Weather Report

At bedtime, talk to your child about the weather today and what it meant for you. “Today was COLD. I wish I had worn a heavy jacket because I was outside all morning!”

Talking about everyday activities helps build children's vocabulary, communication skills, and their brains!

 

Name That Dish

While you put away the clean dishes, hold each one up and ask your child to “Name that Dish!” Plate! Bowl! Fork! And so on. Make it fun like a game show. You hold up the item, your child tells you what it is, or you say what it is, then on to the next one! 

Your child learns to make connections between words and objects when he/she can see it and hear them at the same time. These connections are important to developing talking and reading skills. 

Cleaning Together

Turn cleaning a surface into a game. Give your child a clean, almost-dry sponge and ask him/her to help you wipe off a surface you’re cleaning. Ask your child to wipe it clean in long lines from top to bottom. Then try making a zigzag. Then circles. See what he/she thinks of too!

Doing “grown-up work” can make your child feel very proud of himself/herself and his/her accomplishments. In addition, your child is learning how to take care of the things in his/her life and is also learning new words too! 

Park Pointers

While you’re at the park with your child, point to things you see and say what they are. “There’s a black bird and he’s flying!” or “The little girl is jumping.” Watch where your child is looking and say what it is. 

When you describe what you see or what your child sees, he/she is making connections between words and what they mean. Children who know words and what the words mean have a head start on learning.

New Timers

When you’re at a playground, help your child do things he/she hasn’t done before. Try out the swings or the slide, or even feel the different textures on the ground. As long as he/she is safe, let him/her try new playground experiences, with a helping hand if he/she needs it. How does he/she respond? Celebrate what he/she says and does!

Giving your child the chance to do safe things by himself/herself helps him/her feel confident, competent, and to learn to take on challenges.

Colour in the Cart

As you grocery shop, let your child help by holding some of the items. Choose the items by colour or let him/her point to the one he/she wants to hold and name the colour. “You are holding the yellow cereal box. What else is yellow?” or “Can you hold this brown box?”

Children learn best when they are interested and actively involved. When your child hears you name the colours of what he/she is holding, he/she begins to make connections between words and their meanings. This will help your child learn to talk, read, and communicate in the future.

Delicious Descriptions

When shopping with your child, point out different objects you see in the aisles. Use lots of description to talk about the taste of different foods, like, “There are some juicy, sweet oranges,” or “I bet those yellow lemons are sour!” Talk about where your child points and looks. 

You’re promoting skills like focus and self-control when you guide your child’s attention and make connections between words and what they mean. When you respond to his/her interests, whether they are expressed by a word, a sound, a point, or a look, you’re showing your child that what he/she has to "say” is important. 

Food Favourites

As you go shopping, point out some of your favourite foods to your child and see if he/she likes them: “I love yogurt, do you?” Then invite your child to point out a favorite food. Tell him/her if you like it. Play back and forth as you move down the aisles.

This game teaches your child that people have different likes and dislikes. The ability to think that someone else might feel differently about something than he/she does will help your child form better relationships with others and learn from them. 

 

Kitchen Chef

When you are cooking, let your child create an instrument using a plastic container with measuring spoons or keys inside. Clap a certain rhythm and ask your child to try and copy your beat with his/her homemade instrument. Then have your child take a turn at leading, and you follow his/her beat.

Going back and forth in a game like this helps your child pay attention and remember the pattern of noises. It's a great brain builder!

A Tall Tale

At his/her next nappy change, tell your child a silly story about the tallest little child in the world while stretching his/her arms over his/her head.

Your voice is your child's favorite sound. Even though your child can't talk back yet, he/she is already taking in your words and using them to build the foundation for language later on.

Changing Chats

When you’re changing your child's nappys, make funny noises and see if you can make him/her giggle or coo, then giggle and coo back at him/her. See how many times you can go back and forth. Follow his/her lead and have a conversation with faces and sounds. 

By following your child’s lead and also responding, you’re building the connections his/her brain will need for conversation and language later on.

Singing While You Change

Sing one of your favorite children’s songs to your child while you change him/her, but put their name in the song: “Row, row, row (your child’s name), gently down the stream,” or “Rock-a-bye (your child’s name) in the treetop.” Encourage him/her to sing along too.

Your child is learning new words and sounds when you sing. The more meaningful and playful words he/she hears, the more he/she will appreciate language. This will help your child learn more words to use when he/she begins to talk. 

Finger Telescope

When outside, make a telescope with your hands. Circle your fingers and hold them to your eye and look at your child telling him/her, “I see you!” Show him/her how to make his/her own finger telescope. Take turns looking through the finger telescope and sharing what you see. 

This simple game is not only fun, it gives your child the chance to pay attention to his/her surroundings and think flexibly as he/she sees familiar people and things in a new way. Being flexible is a big part of problem-solving and making the most out of life. 

Bathtime Weather Man

Use your child’s time in the tub to talk about the weather. Sprinkle water on his/her arms and talk about rain. Let him/her take a turn sprinkling rain on your arms. When you’re draining the tub, show him/her how the water looks like a tornado. Take turns opening and closing the drain to let the water swirl around.

Having conversations helps to build children’s brains—your child is learning new words, and learning about cause and effect when he/she sees the water go down the drain.

 

Bath Count

When your child is in the tub, think of all the things you can count together. For example, the number of splashes he/she makes or the number of times you pour water on him/her. Take turns counting and talk about what you are doing. 

Counting small numbers of things helps your child understand that numbers go in a sequence, from little numbers to big ones. 

Splish, Splash, Pour

Grab two cups before bathtime. Give your child a cup and pour water from your cup into his/hers. Then ask your child to pour the water from his/hers back into yours. Count the number of times out loud and see how many times you can go back and forth!

Supporting children as they explore and discover will help them become learners for life. Counting out loud also helps your child build a stronger sense of numbers.

Shhh, What's That?

Do you hear a sound in the waiting room? Pause. Ask your child, “What's that sound?” Take turns guessing. Are you hearing a slamming door or papers rustling? The squeak of a sliding chair or someone clearing his or her throat? Name them all together! 

You are inviting your child to focus on hearing the differences in sounds. This is an important skill for enjoying and learning language so he/she can communicate with others. 

Glass Half Full

When your child drinks out of a glass, have a back and forth conversation about how full the glass is. Is it a little full? Half full? 

When you have a back and forth conversation about how full the glass is, you’re helping your child gain basic ideas about math. It can also help him/her learn new words!

 

Mini Chef

When you’re cooking, have your child help with simple tasks like adding an ingredient. Ask him/her what he/she thinks will happen when you add the ingredient (like pouring a cup of milk into flour) and then talk together about what actually happens. 

This is a real-life science experiment. Guessing about what might happen promotes your child's curiosity, which is critical to learning.

Animal Game

While waiting for the bus or in line say, “I'm thinking of an animal” and provide clues to help your child guess what animal you're thinking of. For example, “I'm thinking of an animal who lives in our house and has black and gray stripes.” 

Playing “I’m thinking of …” helps develop your child’s working memory, including his/her ability to recall names and details. It also turns waiting time into a fun learning activity. 

Nature Stories

While outside with your child, look for rocks, leaves, or pinecones, and use these objects to retell one of your child’s favourite stories or songs. For example, sing “Old MacDonald” and pretend to use the objects as different animals. Ask your child for ideas. 

At this age, your child uses pretend play to practice his/her understanding of symbols—that one thing can stand for another. Being able to make these kinds of connections and to think creatively are important parts of learning how to read and communicate.