As a new mom, you want your baby to be smart and curious as she grows up. Is there anything you can do now to increase her capacity for learning?

Scientists say there is. A baby's environment has a big impact on how her brain will be wired, and the activities you do will spark the foundation for learning.

Here's how it works: At birth a baby's brain contains all the neurons it will ever have about 100 billion but the connections these neurons make depend on sensory experiences in the first three years, according to the American Association for Gifted Children at Duke University.

Neurologists and scientists who study the brain say the more a baby is stimulated, the more connections or synapses her brain will make. Repetition causes certain synapses to become permanent while unused synapses eventually fizzle out.

Stimulate your baby's brain

So what can you do to stimulate your baby's brain? Experts suggest developing a daily playbook of activities that use the senses of sight, smell, sound, and touch to reinforce connections. A rattle or a pop-up toy can be entertaining and make him feel empowered.


However, don't use television to stimulate your baby's brain. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no TV for children younger than two years old because this is such a critical time for brain development.

A baby's favorite thing to look at is a face, says Gail Bennett, a hospital specialist with infants and toddlers. Babies need to see people and make strong attachments to feel confident to explore their world. You are your baby's favorite toy.

Activities to try

Remember, babies have short attention spans and will let you know if they're tired of the activity. If your baby isn't enjoying the activity, stop and attend to his needs. You can always try again later. Here are some ideas to get you started:


  • Sight. Babies have a definite preference for high-contrast images. Surf the web for black-and-white templates to print from your computer and slip these into quart-sized Ziploc bags. You can tape one inside your baby's crib and change it daily for a stimulating environment, or slowly move it in front of baby's eyes from left to right. This exercise will help your baby use both eyes together and track a moving object.
  • Smell. Cut a slot in the top of a plastic container and place a strong-smelling item such as a lemon wedge or garlic clove inside for the baby to smell while you're cooking. Or when you're strolling outside, take the time to smell the roses, as the cliché says.
  • Sound. Music is very important for babies, but it shouldn't be on all the time. Use soothing music at naptime, upbeat music for exercise, or introduce culturally diverse music to let children hear different sounds. Hold your baby and dance or gently rock to music; this type of movement is very comforting because it's what he experienced in the womb. Read and talk to your baby to help him develop language; teach favorite songs such as Itsy-Bitsy Spider and I'm a Little Teapot.
  • Touch. For a sweet bonding experience, use baby oil to gently massage your baby. Begin by laying her on her back; start rubbing her arms and hands in circular movements, then legs and feet, then belly. Turn her over and massage her back and bottom. From three to six months of age, it's important for a baby to have plenty of time on her stomach to exercise her neck muscles and begin to reach for objects. When she is fully walking, take her outside on a warm day in bare feet and let her use the hose. She'll have fun watering the lawn and feeling the soft grass under her feet.