1) Breastfeed. Studies show that at the age of six children who were breastfed for six months or more score an average of 6 points higher on IQ tests than formula fed children. And breast milk is FREE. Formula costs a family on low income a great deal of money…and it limits your child’s mental capabilities.
2) Talk. From about 26 weeks a foetus can hear in the womb. Studies have also shown that children who were talked to in the womb and as babies have better verbal skills. One of the easiest ways to accomplish this is to give your child a running commentary on your activities. “We need to give you a bath now. Let’s take your little pink shirt off. Out come your arms. Now let’s pull it over your head.” I have gotten a few strange looks on the Tube of course, but my daughter’s intelligence is more than worth it.
3) Let them explore. We have all heard the expression…kids will be kids. But often one of a baby’s first words is “No,” because they hear it so often. Clearly some things like sticking things in electrical outlets must be “No,” but other things can be made safe for your child. For instance, our lower kitchen cabinets are always child proof. We keep the plastic ware and canned foods in them. It is a skill that I learned from my great-grandmother. Even as an adult, I fondly remember sitting on her kitchen floor surrounded by cans of food. I would build towers. I would play store. Those cans were wonderful FREE toys…and it allowed me as a child to safely explore the adult world. As parents/carers our job is to create a safe world in which to allow our children to explore…and learn.
4) Test their limits. We never learn what we are capable of accomplishing if we are not allowed to try. It is natural for parents/carers to want to protect their children, but sometimes by watchful waiting we can allow them to develop a sense of accomplishment. My daughter could ‘climb’ the stairs before she walked. We of course had safety gates at the top and the bottom so that she never could attempt this new skill without the watchful eye of an adult, but we often would put her down at the bottom and allow her to crawl them. We were only a step or two behind of course should something go wrong. She has taken that same determination into other tasks as well…tackling the jungle gym at the ripe old age of two.
5) Expand their horizons. In most large UK and US cities there is an abundance of exciting and educational activities for young children. Living in London, we are lucky that our museums are FREE. But even when we lived in the US, we found that by purchasing annual memberships to the local zoos and museums we could provide the relatively cheap entertainment for the whole family. The Los Angeles Zoo for instance offered a family membership for around $50 that admits 2 adults and up to 4 children under 18. Most US attractions have similar offers. If even this paltry amount is too much for your tight budget, we have asked for memberships as gifts from grandparents.
6) Read. You can never begin reading too soon…even before birth your child can hear you. As small babies, brightly coloured cardboard books that they can touch and even chew are wonderful. Older babies and toddlers enjoy books with flaps or texture which they can touch and explore for themselves. My 2 year old loves to ‘read’ her picture books to Mummy now. And don’t forget the value of your child seeing you read. Our daughter often demands her own ‘paper’ on Saturday morning as she eats breakfast and reads along side Daddy. If she sees me reading on the couch, she often brings an arm load of her own books for me to read to her.
7) Listen and learn. Sometimes as parents we forget that our children have a great deal to teach us as well. Their open and loving attitude has much to teach adults, who can so easily get caught up in inconsequential tasks. One of my fondest memories was the sheer joy of jumping in a puddle with my daughter. To enjoy such priceless moments we must take the time to listen to our children with our hearts as well as our ears. We must also free ourselves from fears and convention to realise just how much we have to learn from these little treasures.