Why active babies make smart kids

By Dr Jane Williams, Gymbaroo

Active babies who have the correct early movement experiences in their first year have better coordination, concentration, memory, behaviour and perception as they get older.

A baby’s brain grows most rapidly in the first twelve months of life and this is a critical period for learning. Research has shown that the correct stimulation for babies can influence how well they behave, read and learn when they reach school. In addition, they have improved confidence, communication and socialisation skills.

During this first year the brain grows dramatically, producing billions of cells and hundreds of trillions of connections between these cells. A baby’s brain actually grows to 64 percent reaching over half of its adult size in the first three months1.

It is well researched that during these earliest years of life much of the essential ‘wiring’ linked to learning is laid down. Research into brain development clearly shows a child’s success at school is set in the earliest years of life.

What is not well known is just how much of a dramatic influence parents can have over the number of neural connections that are made by their active babies and the resulting strength of their foundations for learning. 

There is an exciting and enormous amount of brain growth that can go on in this earliest year if babies are given the learning opportunities and the opportunity to use their brains. The human brain grows by use and this growth is practically complete by six years of age. This does not mean we cannot learn after this age, it simply means that the quality of learning available to us will depend primarily on the foundations we have acquired in our early years.

As the brain grows, the millions of connections that are made between the message highways – neurons – tell the brain about the body and the environment in which the baby is growing. The number of these connections, how well those messages are transported along the neurons, how strong the connections are and how much information the brain can interpret from the messages will be influenced by several key environmental experiences; movement opportunities, sensory stimulation, emotional security and diet.

The biggest difference to the number of resulting connections is made in the first year of a child’s life. During the first year, brain cells are busy making millions of connections. The connections peak at about one year and, in a process called ‘pruning’, they are eliminated if they are not used. The connections that babies regularly use are the ones they keep.

So how can we help a baby to ‘use’ their brain?

Movement is one of the key experiences that promotes learning for babies.

Babies’ brains grow through movement. Introducing the correct movement experiences into your babies daily lives from the earliest months will have a profound influence on their brain growth and neurological organisation. Fun and loving movement activities will stimulate intellectual, physical and emotional growth, providing solid foundations for a future of learning, health and happiness.

Active babies are born to move and programmed to develop along a specific sequence of physical milestones. It is a step-by-step process. Each stage provides them with the experiences necessary for the next developmental level of achievement. These milestones correlate with stages of brain development. Alongside the development of movement skills, other key areas of brain development are also being stimulated and readied for future learning.

Importantly, we need to remember not to ‘hurry’ a child through the developmental process. The brain needs lots of time, experience and practice to ‘wire up’ every new motor skill it learns. These movements and the quality of the movements within each stage of development will determine the amount of brain growth.

What is of real concern is that babies of today have greatly reduced opportunities to move, play and develop and this can severely impact their developing brain and healthy development. One of the issues contributing to this issue is the over use of ‘containers’ into which babies can be placed.

The correct early movement experiences are easy, natural and fun and any parent can do them with their babies. Parents are a child’s first, most important and best teacher. At BabyROO we strive to help parents feel confident in their knowledge about their baby’s brain and body development and provide them with developmentally appropriate and loving activities that can be easily accomplished both at GymbaROO/KindyROO and at home.

For the most part, the right kinds of movement opportunities involve good old-fashioned one-on-one parent/carer and baby interaction.

Some of these are:

  • Tummy time: On their tummies babies will develop neck, back, arm, leg and eye muscles, enabling them to gain control over their body movements – so important for brain development
  • Baby massage: Massage and loving touch have terrific positive effects on a baby’s brain and body, as well as ensuring babies form secure attachments, essential for healthy emotional development
  • Baby exercises: These are fantastic for stimulating the pathways in the brain that form the foundations for later physical competence as well as connecting parts of the brain that help with thinking, understanding, learning and remembering. Most importantly, babies love them!
  • Music, dance, songs and rhymes: Music and rhythm develops a baby’s listening, speech and language skills, providing building blocks for the future development of reading and writing. Rhythm is also vital for smooth coordinated movement essential for sports and mathematics
  • Baby balance activities: Babies who have been given regular balance stimulation in the early months of life display improved coordination, posture, balance, control of movement and the ability to learn new activities quickly and efficiently.

In addition to playing an active role in your active babies learning ability, simply loving and nurturing your little one will also do wonders for their brain development.

Note: The views and advice expressed on this blog post are those of the author and are not representative of the Pregnancy Babies & Children's Expo.

Gain more Parenting Insights at our Expos

Get your Expo tickets today! View Expo dates