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Simple Engaging Moments that Build the Brain

Simple, Engaging Moments that Build the Brain

Summertime brings with it longer days filled with sunshine and growth and a sense of renewal on many levels. It is a time to take long walks, put our hands in the soil, and breathe in the fragrance of the flowers. This time of year can be a simple time; letting our senses take over while our minds wander.

Our children follow our lead, and learn from what we say and do. Very young children soak up what they experience, building brain connections as they go. It is up to us to be deliberate in our sharing of these experiences. If we narrate what we do and how we feel while in nature, our children will take that time to experience it with us.

“Experience is an essential component of brain development. A child’s specific experiences determine which connections are strengthened and expanded and which connections are eliminated.” ( Better Brains for Babies)

Taking a step outside of our regular routine, allows us to be spontaneous and creative which gives our children the chance to see things from a different perspective. Encouraging outside exploration when our children are young fosters a love for nature early; which will benefit them as they grow. Daily walks that include time to sit under a tree, roll down a hill, climb on rocks or just collect rocks are great ways to slow down and enjoy moments while building memories. “Our role is to facilitate children’s thinking and leaning as they discover meaningful experiences.” ( NAEYC, Beyond the Journal 2008).

It is the simple things that matter most. Your voice, narrating what is happening, your touch, soft and comforting, and your attention, interested and engaged are the components needed to encourage learning and enhance brain growth. No toy or DVD can compare to the time spent with your child. “ Not only do children learn lots of basic and fundamental information about how the world works in a very effective manner, they are more likely to remember what they learned because it was concrete and personally meaningful.”( Ormrod, 1977)

The first three years are critical for brain growth and development. By the time our children are three, 80% of the brain is formed and the experiences that help form their brain come directly from you. With that in mind, turn off the screen, get up from the chair and interact directly and daily with your child.

Mindfulness and the Delicate Art of the Next Time

Take a deep breath, count to three and release the breath audibly. Tell your child as you do, that you are calming your body. Repeat this several times and then say, “WOW! I feel better.” Narrating our actions and then reflecting on our emotions will give our children a better understanding of how we feel. When we practice these “mindful moments” during our day, our children will want to do this as well. Mindfulness is defined as “Attending to the present moment with a kind and curious attitude.” (Shapiro and White). Learning to calm, and self -regulate takes practice, but it is a skill that we need throughout our entire life.

Inevitably our children will test the limits that we set. When they do, we need to be ready. Responding rather than reacting to the test is the key to deflating a power struggle. Even with our best efforts to offer choices within a structure, or to distract our children, struggles will occur. Having ways to calm ourselves and offering those strategies to our children at these times may help. Being mindful of our children’s temperament, and being ready, will often defuse the situation. Here are some situations and suggestions on how to use the art of the “next time” to curtail that struggle. Remember, modeling the behavior you want to see in your children is an important first step.

  • Your child does not want to say thank you to the stranger who just gave him a sticker or toy. You believe in manners and want your child to say thank you. Model what you expect; say thank you to the person and tell you child that you expect they will say it NEXT TIME.

  • Your child hit another child while playing, you want your child to feel remorse and say sorry to the victim, but he refuses. You give all your attention to the child who has been hit, and then you model the correct response. As you say you’re sorry to the victim, you turn to your child and say, “I am sure you will be able to say you’re sorry Next Time someone gets hurt.” Of course there will be a further consequence for his actions, i.e. playing in another area or having a toy taken.

  • You are leaving in 5 minutes and your child doesn’t want to go. After giving him a transition warning and setting up what is next, he still refuses to go. You may need to pick him up and take him, but instead of being angry at that moment you can say, “Today was a tough day for you, but I bet tomorrow you will be able to get ready when it is time.”

Making a child comply when he has refused, can create a power struggle. We have to pick our struggles and remind ourselves of our ultimate goal: cooperation. Our children want to cooperate, but their need for independence and control are getting in the way. If we stop the battle for control, both of us can think better. It becomes a relationship rather than a dictatorship. Rudlolph Dreikers, child psychologist, tells us, “Children misbehave when they can’t find a way through cooperation.” He further states that a consequence is a choice a child makes. We all learn from the choices we make, and the consequences that follow.

Offering your child a way to learn how to express remorse and a feeling of responsibility will help him to learn what it means to feel sorry for negative actions. We take the emotion out of the situation, and demonstrate what we do want, but we don’t give our child a way out… Your expectation is he will learn and do this next time. Mindfulness and daily calming breaths will help you be calm when it is needed. Teaching your child to breath with you will give them a good start as well to calming and learning how to deal with emotions. Remember, you are your child’s first and best teacher; what you do makes all the difference!

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