why the first 1000 days are so important for a childs development: how children learn through play

Science tells us that the first 1000 days of a child’s life sets the foundation for future years. The Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University’s most recent research shows that more than one million new neural connections form every second and your baby’s brain grows to 80% of it’s adult size within the first two years of life.

So it’s no wonder that such great emphasis is placed on early childhood development as a way to pave the way for future generations.

Why are the first 1000 days of a child’s life so important?

Experiences and relationships shape the architecture of the brain, meaning that everything your little one sees, hears or interacts with is building their brain and contributing to how connections are formed.

These connections and neural pathways are strengthened by continued and repeated exposure. Thus, whatever your child is experiencing – and who they are experiencing it with – during the first 1000 days of their life truly does matter and is, in fact, the most important platform from which they will develop.

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What can you do to grow your baby’s brain?

One of most effective and proven ways to build your baby’s brain is through ‘serve and return’ interactions. Serve and return is basically back and forth interactions between child and adult. Serve and return interactions that are both responsive and attentive help to build a strong foundation in the brain for a child’s future learning and development.

The first 1000 days: how does serve and return interaction work?

  1. Be aware of what the child is focusing their attention on (serve).

This will allow you to learn what your child is interested in and, by encouraging him/her to explore, the bond between child and caregiver grows.

  1. Respond to (return) the serve by acknowledging, supporting and encouraging.

Encouraging a child will reward their interest and curiosity and assures them that they are being both heard and understood.

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  1. Name what the child has been focusing on.

By naming what a child is focused on, you are facilitating understanding and helping them learn more about their body and the world around them.

  1. Repeat interactions, wait for the child, and take turns back and forth.

Turn-taking helps children develop self-control and appropriate social skills. By waiting for the child to respond, you allow the child time to develop ideas, boost confidence and independence.

  1. Understand and practice the end of one activity and the start of another.

By following a child’s lead, you support him/her in exploring, and therefore make further serve and return interactions possible.

“Growth-promoting relationships are based on the child’s continuous give-and-take (“serve and return” interaction) with a human partner who provides what nothing else in the world can offer—experiences that are individualized to the child’s unique personality style; that build on his or her own interests, capabilities, and initiative; that shape the child’s self-awareness; and that stimulate the growth of his or her heart and mind.”

 ~ Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University

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How interactive play can stimulate baby’s brain

Serve and return is also known to be a form of play. Interactive play is the most fundamental way to build babies brains and stimulate them developmentally. For young children, everything they learn happens through the context of play.

Play involves exploration, curiosity, skill-development and emotional regulation. The best and most effective play takes place in a safe environment that provides the best opportunities for learning.

Remember you can practice serve and return play at any time during the day, in amidst any activity. Our encouragement to you is to ensure that this is done in a natural, relaxed and fun manner. Daily interactions and simple games such as peek-a-boo, sharing of toys or even laughing together create a sense of emotional security that promotes growth.

Nanny ’n me was started in Cape Town in April 2012 by Lara Schoenfeld, an Occupational Therapist and mom of three boys. With a passion for creativity, a love for little people and nannies as well as experiencing the struggle of being a working mom, the idea was born. There was also the realisation that most nannies have never had the opportunity as children to paint or to build puzzles themselves and may feel reticent to have to initiate such activities with the child they care for.