Back to articles

Boost your baby's brain in just 5 minutes a day

Mom and baby painting

There’s one magnificent (and free) method that every parent can use to improve their child’s learning abilities.

“The biggest single public health deficit and failure…today is the fact that almost no parents of newborn children have been told or taught that they can improve their child’s learning abilities significantly by exercising their baby’s brain in the first three years of life,” wrote George Halvorson, former head of US health care company, Kaiser Permanente, recently.

He’s right. The effects of a bit of brain exercise can be profound. Learning levels are not set before birth. The basic biological fact is that brains develop. And they do this by growing neural pathways most rapidly in their first 1000 days in the world. There is a great opportunity to positively influence your child in his/her early years. Fortunately this is a lot easier to achieve than you might think.

It doesn’t particularly matter what you play – it’s how you play. Loving, focused connection is the magic that helps brains to grow.

Daily attentive play ensures that you are nurturing your little one’s early learning potential while also building and strengthening your relationship. The two are a powerful mix for brain growth. Whatever stage your baby or toddler is in, try to dedicate at least five minutes of focused attention every day.

The beauty of play for brain development

Play is a vital part in a child’s development, it’s how babies learn. It doesn’t particularly matter what you play – it’s how you play. Loving, focused connection is the magic that helps brains to grow.

Face-to-face interaction with your baby is the most powerful tool for brain growth, according to scientists. “A mother’s emotionally expressive face is the most potent stimulus in the infant’s social environment,” says neuropsychologist Dr Allan Schore in research published in the Infant Mental Health Journal. When a mother (or primary caregiver) and child look into each other’s eyes, both know that the loop between them has been closed and this creates a “potent channel for reciprocal influences,” says Shore.

This intimate, private conversation is not only necessary to form those incredibly special bonds we have with our little ones, it also opens the flood gates for the hormones and brain chemicals essential for optimal brain growth. Schore explains that the infant’s right brain is especially tuned to grow when it receives stimulation “coming from the smiling and laughing joyful face of a loving mother”.

“Feeling loved and connecting with a human being is the foundation of our social experience. In life, if we have lot of positive early social experiences, it bodes well for the way we see the world, whether we can trust another, how we make friends and ultimately how we connect in society. Bonding is linked ultimately to success in all areas. Set aside time each day to play, touch and talk and make this a habit – make it consistent,” adds occupational therapist, Megan Faure.

Meaningful daily interactions with mom create not only a sense of safety and connection, but also “a positively charged curiosity that fuels the burgeoning self’s exploration of new environments,” says Schore. Exploration can only happen when a young child feels secure in his bond with mom (or primary caregiver), and this leads to more advanced learning.

Carving out together time

While five minutes doesn’t sound like much, whether you’re a working or stay-at-home mom, it can be tough to find the time. But once you get into the habit of carving out a little time to connect with each child every day on their own, it not only gets easier to schedule, but you will look forward to the closeness the interaction brings.

“Whatever stage your baby/toddler or child is in, he needs at least five minutes of your focused attention every day, which is uninterrupted,” says Lourdes Bruwer, occupational therapist for Nubabi.

Here’s how:

  • Be relaxed, be peaceful, this time can’t be rushed. Get comfortable, sit down on the floor together.
  • Put away any technology, ignore the phone, iPad, door bell and TV. Switching off the TV or radio also helps to decrease background sights and sounds, which may distract you both from each other. Make sure the room is warm or cool enough and be aware of smells that may be overwhelming or irritating for your baby/toddler. Setting the sensory scene will ensure sensory smart success in this special time with your baby or toddler, suggests Bruwer.
  • After collecting your baby from crèche or play school, or when you get home from work, is a good time to have some quiet quality time.
  • If you’re getting home to your baby from work, spend time in your car before you enter the house purposefully breathing out the “work” of the day. Changing your work clothes may also help you shed the work day so that you can be purposefully present for your baby/toddler. Mental multitasking is tempting but not allowed during your 5 minutes of “me-time” with your baby/toddler.
  • Find a time when your baby is in the calm/ alert phase and not prone to overstimulation. Ideally not when they are hungry or tired.

“In the first three months your baby doesn’t need any toys – mom or dad’s face is all he wants and needs. When he gets older and can tolerate more stimulation, you can offer a variety of toys but remember to offer them one at a time, hiding extra toys out of sight so as not to overwhelm your child,” says Nubabi occupational therapist Carly Tzanos.

  • For older children, let them lead the play session and show you what they want to do. It may be rolling around on the floor, hide and seek, reading a book, or chatting about their day.
  • Do the chosen activity for five uninterrupted minutes. Checking on the supper in the oven is cheating, as are non-committal “mmm’s”and “really’s”, while you absent-mindedly stack blocks or fold washing. This is a no multitasking zone! Your only task is to watch, wait and wonder about your child,” says Lourdes.
  • If you are able to give them more than 5 minutes, by all means keep playing! But even just these 5 minutes of uninterrupted time shows them that they are more important to you than anything else in the world.
  • If you have more than one baby or toddler they might be vying for your attention. Be sure to give each one time and space to have your undivided attention. Carving out alone time for each child will also help each one feel loved and appreciated. Special “dates” once a month where you spend time only with one child without their sibling will help your baby/toddler shine in their own light, says Carly.
  • Set a timer – this will help both of you be wholly present in the moment for just these 5 minutes, and not worrying about all you have to do or get done. It will also help your toddler transition from special “me-time” back to dinner/bath and routine chores.

As you get into the habit of being with your baby purposefully and connectedly every day, you will undoubtedly both benefit from and relish the time together. Plus you are giving your baby’s brain the best possible boost. Those five+ minutes a day may well be the best investment you ever make.

Signup Ad

Have you tried the Nubabi Free Trial?

Get unlimited access to Your Parenting Toolkit for 2 weeks for free!

Track, Boost, Explore and Capture your child's growth and development.
Available on both mobile and web.

Sign me up!