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How to Encourage Brain Development for Young Children

mother reading to her baby on floor

Brain development affects all areas of a child’s growth. It is part of cognitive development, which includes thinking, learning, and problem-solving skills. From birth to 3 years old, children’s brains develop rapidly. It is a critical time for learning and development. The best way to help children’s brains develop is to actively engage them through everyday activities like talking, playing, reading and being there when they feel stress. Learn how to effectively encourage your child’s cognitive development with these four activities.


Talk to babies and toddlers about what you are doing. Describe things you see together, such as “Here is a dog. He is big and brown. See his tail wag.” As babies begin to babble and coo, talk with them as though they are carrying on a conversation with you. Ask toddlers simple questions to encourage responses.


Play is a wonderful way to help a baby or toddler’s brain develop. Play might be a game, talking, or singing to actively engage the child.

Games like “Peek-a-boo” and holding toys out to watch help a baby’s brain develop. For toddlers, sing songs with actions, like “Wheels on the Bus,” encourage pretend play, color and build with blocks and toys. These foster imagination and creativity.


Babies and young children can feel stress. Studies show that responsive, supportive care helps babies handle stress better than if care is inconsistent.

Let him/her know you are there to comfort and help them when they feel stress. Developing and maintaining routines is also comforting. Establishing regular times for playing, eating and napping help babies feel secure, and routines can be adapted for child care settings. For example, children may first help clean up toys before washing hands and sitting down for a snack.


Reading is one of the best ways to promote a child’s brain development. Even before he or she can recognize letters or words, reading kick starts language and communication skills.

Hearing words and seeing pictures connects the two in a child’s mind. Repeating the same books further builds recognition between the words you speak and the images on the page. As a child grows, ask him or her questions like “Where is the dog?” to encourage interaction with the picture on the page. To further engage children, rotate who gets to choose the book for story time each day.


For more ideas to encourage a child’s brain and cognitive development, visit helpmegrowmn.org.

Portions of this content, developed by Help Me Grow Minnesota, may have previously appeared elsewhere.

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