16 simple ways to make your baby smarter

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What's the best way to mentally stimulate your baby? It doesn't take a genius - just a loving, involved parent.

Here are some fun and simple ideas that can help boost your baby's IQ.

1. Read a book: Your child is never too young to be read to, says Linda Clinard, a literacy consultant and author of Family Time Reading Fun. Cuddle up with your baby and look at a book together. Even before babies can understand what you are reading, "They will associate reading with cuddling and love," Clinard says. Infants are especially drawn to books with real pictures, she adds. (Learn more about building literacy in babies and toddlers.)

2. Cuddle away: Human brains are wired to seek safety, and if a baby's brain doesn't feel safe, it can't learn. The love and cuddling you give your baby can help establish her sense of security. "From the time a child is born, that soft and loving voice, and soft touch speaks to children so much," Clinard says.

3. Sing: Nursery rhymes, TV jingles or your favorite top 40 hits - babies love to hear you sing. (Learn more about the importance of music play.)

4. Make eye contact: Gaze into your newborn's eyes. Within a week, infants can recognise their parents' faces, and every time he stares at you he is building his memory and learning how to recognise facial expressions.

5. Narrate your day: Talk to your baby - a lot. Research has shown that the greater number of words children hear from their parents and caregivers before age 3, the higher their IQ. Tell them what you are doing, what you are thinking and what they are seeing. (Learn more about how to help your baby discover language.)

6. Use the right tone: That baby-friendly, higher-pitched tone that many parents instinctively use is called 'parentese', and it has a purpose. It helps baby's brain learn language by making the vowel sounds more distinct, and the higher pitch is easier for a baby to imitate. (Learn more about parentese and how it helps your baby.)

7. Count aloud: When you wash your baby's hands and feet in the tub, count his fingers and toes aloud. Count his toys with him, or, when he is older, the cereal pieces he is learning to self-feed. Soon enough, he will join in.

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8. Point your finger: Research shows that children learn language faster if you point to an object while saying the word.

9. There's an app for it: Download the free Kid Builders mobile app for your smartphone, says Kimberly Goll, executive director of the Children and Families Commission of Orange County. The commission created the app to give parents ideas for simple but impactful activities that can help their child's development starting at birth. The app is available in English, Spanish and Vietnamese, and allows parents to track their child's progress. Kid Builders includes "Mind Builder" games for every stage up to age 5.

10. Give her a choice: Even a 3- to 5-month-old baby has opinions. Show her two books or two toys and watch which one she seems drawn to look at or touch, Clinard says.

11. Play peekaboo: This basic hide-and-seek with Mum or Dad is not just hilarious for children - it also teaches babies that objects can disappear and then come back.

12. Tickle his toes: Playing games like "this little piggy" with his toes teaches your child to anticipate events.

13. Give her a break: Watch your baby for signs of over-stimulation. If she's looking away, don't force it. Give her downtime on the floor without music or bright lights so she can amuse herself, play quietly or crawl.

14. Get out: Maybe it is a puppet show at the library, a breezy day at the park or a stroll through the zoo - your baby will be entertained by new sights and sounds. Clinard recommends checking out programs run by your local council, library or playgroup.

15. Reflect on it: Show your baby a mirror. At first she might think she is eyeing another child, but she will love making the "other" baby smile and wave.

16. Parlez francais or hablar espanol: If a parent or caregiver speaks another language fluently, have them speak it to the baby. "It's actually an advantage for children to be bilingual because it encourages parallel thinking. It's not associated with language delays," Yson-Zaragoza says. (Learn more about the myths and truths of raising a bilingual child.)

The Orange County Register