For the month of October, to highlight TVO's "Why Poverty" campaign, SickKids has tips on how to stimulate a child's brain development even when the family may not have the means to pay for fancy toys or expensive lessons. This week, we have tips on finding free programs and activities that can help in your child's development.
Your Baby/Toddler (Birth to 36 months)
Getting your child involved in a variety of activities helps stimulate his development. During these early years, the experiences you offer to your child have a profound impact on his brain development in particular, and this will ultimately influence his physical and mental health in the short and long term. A healthy body is a healthy brain, and therefore it is in your child’s best interest to be active. However, for some families, organized sports, camps, and other recreational activities are costly, time-consuming and add a load to an already stressful financial situation. Here, we provide some tips on how to involve your child in his community.
- Activities with other children and families are important even at this stage in her life. Get in touch with Family Resource Centres and Ontario Early Years Centres which often have free drop-in play programs, and are a great place for your little one to run around and get her wiggles out. They are also able to connect you to other programs such as Parent-Child Mother Goose, which encourage your relationship with your child through songs, and rhymes. These programs can help you develop your child’s motor, language, and social skills.
- Many communities have opportunities for activities that are free. Your local public library is a great place to expose your child to books, language and the arts. Many libraries host free “Baby Time” and children’s reading sessions, and have areas where children can play and read. The Library is also a place where many organizations, as well as your community, post events and activities that you would not hear of otherwise. Exposing your child to a language-rich environment increases the activity in your child’s brain and will make him a better communicator as he grows older and enters school.
- Young children need a lot of exercise to keep their minds and bodies happy and healthy. Young children under four need about three hours of physical activity throughout the day, and parents should limit prolonged sitting to no more than one hour at a time. Check out these guidelines for active and sedentary behaviours. Even going to the park to run around, look at the trees or to collect rocks will keep your child moving, and help her learn about the world. The park and playground is also a great place to meet other parents in your neighbourhood.
When you go out into the community to find opportunities for your child, it can seem daunting and difficult. Sometimes waitlists for free or subsidy-driven programs are lengthy and hard to get into. In time, you will learn how to navigate the system, and find the things that are best suited to you and your family. Remember that these activities and programs are ways that you create a support system with the people that you meet, as well as exposing your child to experiences that will greatly enhance his brain development.
Your Preschooler (36 months to 48 months)
Your child is now at an age where she has begun to work together with other children her age. She is beginning to develop social skills that are relevant to her age group, such as turn-taking, displaying empathy and communicating her feelings- skills that are all developed through interactions with other adults and children. Your child’s brain activity increases through mental and physical stimulation, and because your child is at the optimal age for learning, involvement with others through play has never been so important.
- Do your best to try and navigate the system for free or inexpensive programs by finding out enrollment dates well in advance, and what steps you need to take to make sure that your child is able to enrol. Trying to enrol your child into community-based organized activities can be extremely frustrating. The earlier you start to understand the process, the less stressed you will be once registration day comes around, and your child will be able to experience new learning opportunities which affect his brain development. Other families in your community can be a valuable source of information about what’s available and how to access programs.
- Perhaps you can organize your own sports events for your child, by creating a just-for-fun sporting group where there are minimal costs, and all that you need to do is go to a local park with a ball at a designated time. Invite the contacts you may have made through the OEYC and Family Resource Centres, or post it on the bulletin board of the library or school. You can even get your child to help with the posters! This is a great way to be cost-effective and schedule a time that works best for you.
The brain learns and grows when it is given the opportunity to exercise and experience new things. When a child does something over and over again, such as kicking a ball, or diving into the water, the brain begins to hardwire that information so that it can use and perfect those skills over time. As children become older it is more difficult to hardwire the skills that come with exposure to new and positive experiences which provide the valuable lessons they will take into adulthood. Likewise, children whose brains do not experience stimulation, and are not exposed to positive experiences will have a much more difficult time playing, relating and communicating with others, and may ultimately experience developmental delays that will influence their capacity to learn and have relationships with their peers.
Want more tips? Read all of the tips from our partnership with Infant Mental Health Promotion at SickKids.