Do you want to raise a little Einstein? You may already be talking constantly to your child and reading up a storm, but there may be more you can do, even at the toddler stage. Pediatric Neuropsychologist and UCLA Clinical Instructor, Dr. Jennison Salata, suggests these 8 strategies, based on research studies and her own experience, to help your young child to score better on future intelligence tests:
- Talk about numbers. Research has shown that the more a toddler’s parent uses number words from one to ten, in their speech, the better the child understands the number of squares on a flash card, at 46 months.
- Practice spatial reasoning. Studies have shown that toddlers of parents who use more words describing properties of objects (e.g.: big, tall, circle, curvy, edgy), do significantly better on three different spatial intelligence tests later (Levine, Suriyakham, Rowe, Huttonlocher, and Gunderson, 2010). Dr. Salata suggests that you can further practice spatial reasoning, through interaction, for example by asking your child to put a ball in a box or on top of a shelf.
- Discuss abstract comparisons. Research shows toddlers perform better on similarity intelligence evaluations, if parents more frequently use the word “like” in their speech to describe similarity (for example: the cat is like the tiger). (Ozcaliscan, Goldin-Meadow, Gentner, and Mylander, 2009). To more directly promote abstract reasoning, Dr. Salata suggests exercises like showing a child a toy fire truck and red ball, and asking how the two objects are similar (they’re both red).
- Use a playful voice. Although adults may sound goofy when they use baby talk (AKA: infant-directed speech), kids like the upbeat tone with exaggerated ups and downs, and they may pay more attention to it.
- Don’t over-simplify. “When you talk to your child,” Dr. Salata explains, “It shouldn’t sound like you’re talking to your dog”. Studies have shown the complexity of sentences and vocabulary that parents use around their toddler predicts the complexity of the child’s sentences and vocabulary, years later.
- Encourage gestures. Early use of gestures is a strong indicator for language ability. Gestures are movements used to communicate, like holding both arms up to be picked up, waving “hi”, pointing, or using sign language. Most babies start gesturing around 10-months-old. If your little one still hasn’t started gesturing by 12-months-old, it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor.
- See a pediatrician early for a hearing check. Even a slight hearing loss, for example due to ear infections, can make a big difference in a child’s ability to notice subtle differences in sounds and can impact a child’s speaking and comprehension abilities. Early intervention can help the child navigate through learning those sounds, smoothly.
- Ensure quality attention from childcare providers. Dr. Salata suggests there isn’t necessarily a “best” option between daycare, a nanny, and staying home. Instead, research shows that the quality of attention and social interaction a child gets from their caregiver is more important.
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