As the mother of any toddler knows only too well, among the 50 or so words most toddlers use regularly, the ever-present “why” is likely to take first place. Despite feeling as though you will run screaming into the street when you hear it for the thousandth time, your toddler is trying to make sense of a fascinating world. The answers to “why” and many other sorts of stimulation, such as play, reading and new experiences, help her brain develop.
From the time children are born, their brains develop in response to their interactions with the environment. Stress, neglect and abuse can all damage a child’s cognitive development -- sometimes permanently. Neglect that takes the form of decreased stimulation can result in a child who will struggle to learn. An infant’s brain has neural pathways -- physical structures that are strengthened in response to activities in the environment. If there is little or no stimulation in a child’s environment, the neurons, or brain cells, in these pathways wither and die, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The use of language is a vitally important skill for toddlers and preschoolers. Talking and reading to your child promotes development of language skills. Repetition is particularly important -- remember that when you’re reading "The Cat In the Hat” for the twelfth time in one day. The pictures in the book also help enrich the reading experience, as toddlers learn to put together the visual cat with the word. Eventually, those neural pathways will be well-worn grooves that allow simultaneous recognition of the word and the picture.
Lack of stimulation can actually cause a child’s brain to be smaller than that of a normal child. Studies of children who spent their first years in Romanian orphanages have revealed physical changes in the children’s brains, according to a July 2012 article in "Live Science." Romanian orphanages in the 1990s were commonly overcrowded, with inadequate staffing. Children spent much of the day in cribs without toys or human interaction. Children from these orphanages had fewer brain cells in their brains. Brain scans also showed the overall size of these children’s brains to be smaller than those of a normal child, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Vision and Touch
In addition to the innumerable whys about everything from alligators to zebras, apricots to zucchini and apple pies to zabaglione, children need visual stimulation that includes color, shape and movement to help their brains develop the ability to recognize the answers to all those whys. Different textures create neural pathways about how things feel -- which may be one reason why toddlers are so fond of things like squishy, wet mud. The more experiences your little angel has in a loving, nurturing environment during the toddler and preschool years, the more likely it is that her brain will achieve its full potential.