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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.

Calming the Storm of Emotions

Calming the Storm of Emotions

We could all use help calming down when big emotions overtake us. When we encounter a stressful situation, our body is flooded with physical and emotional responses. As adults we usually can find our way to the “other side” incorporating strategies that have worked in the past. Our children have had less experience and a less mature nervous system, and regulation is more difficult in times of anxiety and stress. Creating a daily calm down routine into our children’s life will serve them well as they grow and encounter more times of turmoil. Modeling your own daily mindful breathing, meditation, yoga or relaxation technique will give them the motivation to try.

Daily Calming Routines for Infants:

Calming routines for infants always include the parent or caregiver. Look for your infant to go through 6 behavioral states throughout the day: quiet alert, active alert, drowsy, crying, and deep and light sleep. ( T. Berry Brazelton) Parents should look for the quiet alert time that happens several times in a day. This is the time for the adults to put away the cell phones, turn off the TV, and turn in to their baby. Use the quiet alert time to engage your baby in massage, reflective communication, or perhaps introduction to music. This is the time to respond and enjoy, allowing the quiet to be relaxing and regenerative. Be present in that moment, and reflect back to your little one what you see and feel. You are learning about her/his cues and they are learning yours! Respond quickly to their cues and build trust. Make it part of your daily routine and soon you will notice how well your baby is self- regulating.

Daily Calming Routines for Toddlers and Preschoolers:

Toddlers are always on the go! Keeping the calming routines in their day is a bit harder than it was when they were infants. But it is more necessary now than ever before. Modeling your routine will be the most effective way to encourage your child to do the same. Our children want to do what we do; they imitate everything … good or bad! Routine is the first strategy to help a child regulate themselves, as structure is much more calming than Chaos. Calming strategies may include:

  • Classical music while quietly looking at books, or coloring

  • Bending and stretching while taking BIG breaths, blowing feathers, cotton balls or scarves into a bucket or back and forth to each other.

  • Fluid movements like dancing to music with ribbons or scarves may be helpful as well; turning the music off and stopping movement, then resuming the dance may encourage better attention and mindfulness (being present in the moment).

  • Creating a sensory space- sand or bean bucket to explore or a jar with water and glitter to shake and watch.

  • Finally using common language at these times can help a child begin to learn how they feel and what works to regulate their bodies.

Each child, just like each adult, will be calmed by different methods. Including reflective language like: “big breaths help me calm down and feel good”, or “music and dancing puts me in a happy Place”, or “It is time for me to stretch I feel frustrated,” gives children information they can begin to use and understand. Labeling how we feel and helping them label their feelings will go a long way to regulating their bodies.

Using these calming routines when a child begins to have big emotions takes the theory into practice. If you and your child have been in the habit of using a calming routine, then incorporating these methods when your child begins to feel dysregulated, (frustrated, anxious or angry), should be doable. Using the common language and reflecting feelings helps the child feel safe and may help him get to the next part of the routine: breathing, stretching, etc….and ultimately calm enough to listen and process his emotions.

References: John Gottman, Gottman Insstitute,

Ellen Galinsky, Mind in The Making, Website

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