Category Archives: Cognitive

Brain-building through responsive interactions with your child

Babies arrive to the world in a state of complete dependency on their loving caregivers. During their first years of life, their brain is just as dependent as the rest of their body on the surrounding adult’s responsiveness. Harvard expert Jack Shonkoff PhD calls these critical moments where a child does something and the adult responds back (and vice versa) “serve and return interactions”. According to him, serve and return means you and your child are attuned to each other, engaging together in exploring the outside or the inside world.

As Dr. Shonkoff assesses, more than 1 million new neural connections are formed every second. The interaction of your baby’s genes, your caring and the attentive interaction with him or her will build your child’s brain architecture, one interaction at a time.

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Your baby’s emotional world: The appearance of your little one’s emotions

The development and appearance of your baby’s emotions follow an orderly process that goes from simple emotions, all the way to the complex ones we all know too well.

According to Michael Lewis, PhD, when your baby is first born he is able to demonstrate three basic emotions: interest, distress and satisfaction. Your newborn will show these emotions due to internal processes, physiological changes or as a response to sensory stimuli. As your little one continues to grow so do his emotional responses. Over the next 6 months these primary responses will evolve into happiness, surprise, sadness, disgust, anger and fear. These emotions, such as the ones stated above, develop in conjunction to the neurological and cognitive maturity of babies.

Once your baby is around 9-10 months of age he will go through a new set of cerebral development that will allow him to be pretty good at expressing a wide array of emotions. You might see your little one go from frustration to anger or sadness to happiness in a manner of seconds. This is completely normal and expected, so don’t stress out about it; you’re are doing a great job. When dealing with these intense moments remember to breathe and try to be the “container” that helps your kid regulate his emotions.

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Your baby’s early learning theories

You’re probably aware by now, but your little one’s brain is developing at such a rapid speed that he or she can come up with theories and explanatory systems that we consider are way beyond his or her age’s capacity. From very early on, your baby is competent, active and insightful. Different studies suggest that babies are not simply “passive” observers but are rather building a collection of theories and knowledge that helps them navigate and understand the world around them.

Some of the explanatory theories that babies begin to construct from a very early age are:

  • Theory of objects – Babies understand the fundamental principles about how objects move in space and time. Every time your baby’s playing with any toy, he or she is further building on this theory understanding how the object moves and how it can be manipulated.
  • Theory of numbers – Babies begin forming two types of numerical systems that serve as the base for future mathematical use. One for small, exact numbers, and the other for larger quantities of numbers.
  • Theory of living things – Babies begin to understand the basics of this theory when they are able to distinguish between living and non-living things, or ideas like that a cut will eventually heal.
  • Theory of the mind – They have a pretty simple theory that what people are looking at is a sign of what they are paying attention to, that people ultimately act intentionally, and that people have feelings (positive and negative).
  • Theory of relation – Through exploratory play, babies learn to recognize casual relations and then use this knowledge to their advantage and solve problems like how to get a toy to work.

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Five simple ways of fostering STEM thinking skills

Babies are born scientists. They develop theories about how the world works and constantly learn through observation, exploration and their own experiments with their environment. According to a new report by The Center for Childhood Creativity at the Bay Area Discovery Museum, babies younger than one year old have the capacity of developing complex thinking skills related to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) concepts. The trick to develop these skills is to become more intentional in the way we interact with our children.

These are some of the ways you can foster STEM thinking skills with your little one:

  • Have “manipulative toys” around. These allow children to transform them into something else, depending on how they play with them. For example, a rattle can be loud or soft, depending on how hard they shake it.
  • Engage in “repetitive play”. Repeating actions over and over, like dropping a toy and picking it up time after time, helps children learn about complex concepts like gravity and cause and effect.
  • Practice the “four kinds of play”. Pretend play fosters creativity and imagination; exploratory play allows children to conduct experiments about their surroundings; guided play includes interactions and learning with adults, and free play lets them take the reins.
  • Ask “how”, “why” and “what” questions constantly to get your little one thinking and questioning his or her experiences.
  • Introduce new words to your child’s vocabulary. Use advanced and accurate words to describe what you’re doing, even from a very young age.

Elizabeth Rood, director of the Center for Childhood Creativity, advices parents to not get so hung up on teaching their children. Instead, focus on having and experience with them to tap into the wonder of math, science and engineering that is all around us.

J. M. (2018, March 05). Eight ways to introduce kids to STEM at an early age. Retrieved May 1, 2018, from

It’s all fun and games

Babies and toddlers explore and learn about the world that surrounds them by playing with objects. By doing this not only do they have fun, but they learn essential problem-solving skills and practice having social interactions. Play is a must in childhood and understanding which activities and toys best suit your baby and toddler are key for the development of skills and milestones.

At first, babies don’t understand the difference between toys and regular household objects. Everything they see, touch, taste and feel is new and exciting. They will explore the object by mouthing, shaking, banging and even throwing, to see what happens. With time, babies learn to differentiate between toys and regular objects but will use them in the way that is most enjoyable to them. If a rattle makes a fun noise when thrown, then they will do this repeatedly.

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How music benefits your child’s development

There’s a reason why parents instinctively use music and rhythm to soothe a child. It is used as a way to express positive emotions and to engage the little one’s attention to interact with him. According to a 2016 study by the Brain and Creativity Institute at the University of Southern California, music is not only fun and beautiful, it also kindles the brain circuits in a way that other visual or physical activities don’t, especially regarding language acquisition. This might be because music brings both mind and body together.

Toddlers and preschoolers can benefit a lot from hearing repetitive songs because, by doing so, they can learn new words and use their memory skills. They frequently enjoy songs about familiar objects they already recognize and interact with, or with predictive rhythms that they can duplicate and move their bodies to.

Here are some musical activities with which you can encourage your son’s musical skills without necessarily enrolling him in violin classes:
• Invite your kid to invent short silly songs about one thing or one daily activity. Sing it when prompted by the object or situation to encourage attention and memorization. As you will have noticed from experience, our brains usually remember language better when it’s accompanied by music.
• Have your kid practice his fine motor skills and coordination by doing the finger motions of songs like Itsy Bitsy Spider.
• Play rhythm games. Have your son reproduce the rhythm of a song by tapping on objects he has at hand, like the floor, a box, different surfaces, etc.
• Have dance sessions. Play different types of music and invite your child to dance to its rhythm. You can model moving to the beat and also encourage describing the song with easy words, like loud, slow, happy, etc. This way, you’re are helping him perfect the control of his arms, legs, and torso.
• Help your child connect with his feelings by listening to some classical music.
• Explore playing some songs that you both enjoy, so you don’t get tired of kid’s music. We recommend The Sound of Music soundtrack, as it’s more complex music while, at the same time, it’s fairly repetitive, uses easily-explained words and it’s fun to sing-along to.

Boosting your child’s musical skills: why and how

A decade ago all the newspapers where talking about the so called “Mozart effect”, it stated that by simply listening to Mozart babies got smarter. Well, we now know that nothing is ever that simple, but that doesn’t mean that music isn’t very valuable for your child’s development! Research like the one of French neuroscientists from the Institut de Neurosciences Cognitives de la Méditerranée, demonstrated that there are important correlations between a preschooler’s musical skills and their non-verbal reasoning. According to Sylvain Moreno’s 2009 paper published in the journal Cerebral Cortex, a child’s phonemic awareness, reading skills and even speech production skills benefit from being exposed to music.

In 2001, Sally Blythe from the Institute for Neuro-Physiological Psychology published a book titled The Genius of Natural Childhood, in which she stated that traditional songs, like lullabies and nursery rhymes, beyond being comforting and fun for your little girl, are actually developmentally necessary. According to her studies, singing and listening to music is a precursor for later emotional wellbeing and school-readiness in children because they prepare their hearing, voice and brain for further language development. The American Academy of Pediatrics assesses that between 2 and 4 years of age children are in a critical moment of language acquisition, so that is a great moment to give them a boost.

Because much research suggests that developing musical skills can have a very positive impact on a preschooler’s ability to communicate, here are some ideas on how you can help your daughter’s development through music:
• Make a habit of singing some fun songs together. Chose one simple enough for your preschooler to memorize, and it can even become part of a bedtime or morning ritual.
• Make your own musical instruments by filling plastic eggs with different amounts of uncooked rice and sand, have your child shake them and make different rhythms.
• Share a couple of songs you love with her and play it on the background sometimes as a way of teaching how to enjoy listening to music.
• Dance wearing a couple of bells on your clothes, like the ones that are attached to Christmas Elf costumes.
• Make a playlist of songs all the family loves and play in different occasions as background music.

The impact of musical skills on early childhood development

Since the early 90s, professor of psychology Susan Hallam, from the University College London, has set out to study how musical skills might be related to other skills, especially during critical moments of children’s development. Her studies advocate the importance of musical skills during and beyond childhood, and are based on a process called “transfer of learning”. Transference of learning refers to the phenomenon where if two or more activities share many subordinated skills or brain pathways, when a person gets better at one skill in particular it actually influences other domains of abilities or development. The most commonly cited example is that of automatically processing music and language: a person uses the same set of neural skills to read and comprehend the meaning of either musical notes or letters. We can also transfer our skills in a more reflected and conscious manner, like when we use our hearing of an emotive song in order to process some feelings, or when we love an album so much that we end up exercising our memory skills by memorizing the lyrics by heart.

Her findings suggest that engaging with music from an early age, even just listening to it, has lasting benefits through a child’s life. Developing the musical skills of your son is also beneficial for his perceptual skills, literacy, gross motor development, body coordination and conceptual reasoning. Beyond having a fun time together, when you share the music you love with your son, sing together or dance to a cool beat, you are actually helping multiple aspects of his development!

You can read the complete paper by following this link:

Ideas and games that foster and nurture my child’s imagination

These are some ideas on how to easily set up scenarios that can spark your little one’s interest. According to your daughter’s age, you just need to be around to supervise and of course take part of the adventure if invited to! Remember to avoid setting rigid boundaries and let your kid’s imagination lead the way.

• Pretend to go on a safari in your backyard. You can even co-create binoculars with your child.
• Go sailing on an imaginary boat inside a big laundry basket.
• Create super-hero props with household items and have your little girl save the day.
• Use play-dough to “cook” pizzas or baked goods.
• Set a camping site right inside the house.
• Dress up like a robot! You can have your child transform into a robot using boxes and aluminum paper.
• Take care of an imaginary garden using some fake-flowers and Styrofoam.
• Pretend to be the weather man or woman.
• Take out pieces of clothes and costumes and tell your child to dress in the colors of a liked animal, move and make that animal noises, and have other family members guess.
• Have your girl imagine being a toy doctor.
• Pretend to go to the grocery store.
• Create a “cave” with bed linens and furniture, and imagine you are an explorer.
• Pretend you are mermaids and live in an underwater house.
• Pretend to be an astronaut exploring a new planet.

Ideas to help your child practice his shape and color skills

Noticing, recalling and identifying different colors and shapes is a skill that underlies any activity in which we need to describe the world around us or take into account the physical context of where we are. Yes, that means that we use our ability to abstract characteristics like shapes and colors all the time. So, now you can see why it’s very important to stimulate your preschooler in learning to do so as well.

• Play describing games together. The more you engage your son in describing what you both see and introduce new, but not overwhelming, words, the easier it will be for him to think in similar terms later in his development.
• Go hunting for shapes. For a fun and activating game inside the house, you can ask your 3 or 4-year-old to identify and bring things shaped like a square, a circle or a triangle.
• Try incorporating sessions of “I Spy” into your daily commute, household activities, book reading, etc. If your kid is 2-3 years old, you can start focusing on very broad characteristics like “I spy something red”. As your child grows and develops language and cognitive skills, you can move into more complex shapes or colors, like “I spy a circle/something golden /a cone”.
• Play sorting games.
• Help your child notice how things are “similar” or “different”, as this will increase his reasoning skills and abstract thinking as well.

You can find many more activity ideas following this link: