#LittlePioneer Baby Steps Series
The #LittlePioneer Baby Steps Series looks at the key developmental milestones for your child between 12 to 24 months. Your child’s brain reaches 90% of its adult size in the first five years, so this time is pivotal to your child’s growth*.
We hear from Dr Peter Willatts, a Developmental Psychologist from the University of Dundee, U.K. who specialises in development in children. From very first steps to kicking a ball, Dr Willatts explains the key milestones at 12, 18 and 24 months and offers practical tips to help your little pioneer continuously learn and explore.
Did you know that 90% of brain development occurs in the first five years of a child’s life?1 According to early childhood expert, Dr Pam Schiller, this development begins long before birth. She says, “The brain begins building the neural connections for everything – from breathing and sight to the ability to speak, think and reason. Although the structure is in place, it will be up to the environment to strengthen and grow the pathways.”2
That means nutrition and parental stimulation play a crucial role. Your child’s diet will lay the groundwork for well-rounded development, while stimulation helps to strengthen the connections within your baby’s brain to encourage cognitive, emotional, motor and communication skills – all part of being a thriving little person.
According to Dr Schiller, there are specific windows of opportunity during which the brain is particularly efficient at learning.3 For example, she says “children are most receptive to learning thinking skills, such as cause and effect, and problem solving in the first two years of life.”4
So what can you do as a parent to these little pioneers to encourage cognitive development and learning? Whether you have a budding artist, a cutting edge scientist, an inspirational teacher or potential musician in the family there are many things you can do to help build your little one’s brilliant brain for the future.
After 6 months your baby will start to become fascinated by the world around her. You’ll notice that she tries to reach for things that are out of her reach or seem “impossible”, like a hanging mobile where toys are suspended in mid-air.5 From 9 months to 12 months, your baby will start imitating you and repeating gestures and actions.6 This helps them to understand the world and every single new thing their brain is processing. Help them by completing an action, like hitting a drum with a stick and passing them the stick to repeat and copy you.
During his second year you will notice your child identifying objects that are similar to each other and learning the difference between the words “me” and “you”. He’ll be more self-aware and excited to point out familiar people and objects in picture books.7
Point at yourself when you say “me” and at your child when you say “you”. Ask your child to identify noises he hears: the doorbell, the washing machine or birds outside. This is also the time to count, so count everything! Count how many items you buy at the store. Count how many toys are in their toy box. Count the number of animals on a page in a book.8
Generally from 2 years old, children will start to identify themselves by name when looking in the mirror. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, this is the age when they begin to appreciate pretend play and it starts to become more complex .9 She might start with sipping from a toy cup and eventually evolve to hosting tea parties for her teddy bears!
Get them to help you! Doing the laundry? Ask them to help match socks. These daily activities are rich learning experiences for your little pioneer and help them develop practical skills like sorting, counting and organizing.
By this stage your little one’s brain is trying to understand absolutely everything. He may be asking lots of “why?” questions. He’ll also be able to sort objects by size, type or colour, listen to instructions and have a longer attention span (up to 10 minutes) and show an awareness of the past and present.10
Help build their memories by asking about their day yesterday and recalling activities. Offer a variety of things to play with, read, create or build.
During the first five years your little one’s brain is action-packed and by now they are becoming more confident, particularly if they are starting school. Many will be familiar with the alphabet and recognise numbers from 1 to 10, are able to draw the shape of a person and identify names and colours.11
Fuel their imagination by listening to their stories. At this age they have a natural love of repetition which dovetails into the use of familiar words. Keep counting and read, read, read.
Most of all, don’t worry; every child develops at their own rate and may meet these milestones at slightly different times. This is normal and this is what will make your trailblazer of tomorrow so individual.
Healthy brain development requires healthy food at every age. A versatile and nutritious diet is key, particularly foods rich in protein which enable growing brains to gain more mass.12 Amino acids make neurotransmitters, which allow brain cells to communicate with each other. This is key to your little pioneer’s cognitive development.13
Fats are also necessary for the development of your child’s central nervous system, vision and intelligence as they surround the nerve cells in the brain and protect it.14
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A child’s very first steps are a moment every parent treasures. That precious first toddle is just one of the exciting milestones you will cherish in the first few years of your child’s development.
In the first five years your child’s brain will grow to 90% of its size , which makes it an incredibly important period to learn.
Research suggests that physical activity in early life will lead to increased activity levels throughout school and into adulthood, so it’s also an important time to get moving.
As adults, we all know the benefits that an active lifestyle can bring, but it’s sometimes hard to understand how encouraging motor skills in children who are only just learning to stand on their own two feet will help. Recent studies suggest that physical activity in early childhood can improve children’s health in both the short and long term, which includes better bone and heart health3 plus helps to improve children’s management of their own behaviour and social skills.4
Did you know that that while robots and artificial intelligence (AI) systems have proved themselves more capable than humans in performing complex tasks, they struggle with simple movement? In fact according to AI experts, AI systems find it hard to perform simple sensory tasks that come naturally to toddlers, especially skills like locomotion that allows them to move from one place to another.
Read on to find out how you can improve your little one’s motor skills.
After 6 months your baby will begin to roll over in both directions and start to sit without support. Over the following months, you’ll see them start to lift up their head, crawling and even pulling to stand. Soon you won’t be able to stop them moving!
You can help encourage the development of early-stage gross motor skills by giving them plenty of “tummy time” each day. Some babies may not like this at first but it helps to give them the strength they’ll need to eventually crawl and walk. Crawling helps your baby to strengthen their hands, wrists, elbows and shoulders and can even affect their ability to hold a pencil down the road, so make sure you’re encouraging them by giving them things to look at and move towards, like a favourite toy.
In the first year your child’s motor development is focused on goal-orientated motor behaviours such as reaching, grasping, sitting or standing. From your little pioneer’s first birthday, moving starts to get much more adventurous. While there will be an increase in activity, don’t be surprised if your little one is eating less. A balanced diet is crucial at this stage. Milk may form a part of their diet because it contains essential nutrients like calcium to help build strong bones. It also contains essential fatty acids needed for overall growth and development.
A simple way to improve your child’s fine motor skills is by adding actions to nursery rhymes and encouraging your little one to copy your movements. Songs like “I’m a Little Teapot” and “The Wheels on the Bus” are fantastic learning tools for motor skills development. To switch things up, try doing a rendition of the same songs by giving them little drum sticks or shakers they can grasp to develop their pincer grip. Wooden spoons and a few saucepans can also work in place of musical instruments – be creative and use what you already have in your home.
You can also make bath-time fun with shaving foam! Try spraying words on shapes on a tiled wall and encourage your little pioneer to follow the shapes, one hand at a time. Story-time, a usually passive activity, can also be turned into an opportunity to develop your little pioneer’s fine motor skills simply by getting them to turn the pages.
Once your little pioneer has mastered the art of walking, you can expect her to start moving much more quickly. It is crucial to feed your child with foods that contain protein, calcium, iron and vitamins to support the development of motor skills and brain and bone development. These nutrients can be found in food groups such as grains, fruits, vegetables, dairy and protein foods.
When your child is able to walk confidently without falling over and can understand basic verbal instructions, it might be time to enrol them into games or sport classes. This has the added benefit of encouraging social and communication skills amongst their peers too. Through play, children learn important skills such as how to respect others, cooperate and take turns.
Top Tip! You can help their motor development by limiting the use of strollers at this age. Encourage your little pioneer to walk short distances with you and use the stroller only when necessary. Make walking fun by setting end goals, interacting with your child when you walk and making sure the environment is fun for her to explore. If you have a small dog, encourage your child to help you hold the lead (and teach them about responsibility at the same time!)
Before you know it, your little pioneer will be comfortable on three wheels as well as two legs. Tricycles or small bikes with stabilizers will help their motor development between the age of 3 and 4 as they get used to moving in entirely new ways.
This is the time to start inculcating good eating habits as it’s the age where they start developing strong food preferences. Since they won’t be eating in big portions, it is important that they get foods that contain many essential nutrients.
This is also an incredibly important period to focus on the development of their fine motor skills, as they will be dependent on this foundation when they join Primary 1 in a year’s time. The sky is the limit when it comes to teaching fine motor skills, and there are plenty of household items that can transform into fun games and learning tools for your little pioneer.
At this age, your little pioneer will be experimenting with all sorts of different movements – skipping, bouncing, hopping, somersaults and maybe even the beginning of a cartwheel. Whether they’re a budding gymnast or not, children in this age group have an innate natural tendency to move a lot. Look for lots of opportunities to keep them active and on the go but remember to ensure they are adequately hydrated, with water or milk.
Reduce screen time and take your kids outside or to a playground where they can improve their motor skills and also nurture their creativity and imagination. However, don’t assume that your little one is getting Vitamin D just because of our sunny climate. Sticking to the shade, sunscreen and covering up are just some of many factors that can prevent the production of this important vitamin. Foods such as salmon, tuna, yogurt and milk are some of the best food sources of vitamin D and should be incorporated into your child’s meal wherever possible.
The more your child starts to move, the more energy they need to support their growth and development. It is incredibly important that you choose a diet that provides a balanced blend of nutrients to help support their journey.
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The first day of school is a big occasion, not just for your little one, but for mum too. That initial step into ‘’big school’’ can be extremely nerve-racking but with the right approach, you can help make it, and the days after, enjoyable and memorable for both of you.
In the first five years, 90% of brain development occurs1 , making it an incredibly important time to lay the foundation for learning. When your little pioneer starts primary school, they benefit from years of good nutrition and stimulation in their earlier childhood. Starting primary school is when they can put everything they have learned into practice, and you should start to see rapid development as they are exposed to an entirely new environment. Nutrition and parental stimulation are as important as ever at this stage, and you can play a crucial role in supporting your child’s learning journey.
Read on to find out how you can help your child ace their first day at school and beyond.
Clinging, crying and screaming. It’s a common scene when pre-schoolers enter school for the first time. For first-time mothers, don’t fret! Separation anxiety is a normal part of a child’s development2 . Young children form a strong bond with their parents, so it’s natural that they will be reluctant to let go of feelings of familiarity, particularly when they enter an entirely new environment like a classroom3.
To help your child prepare for this big change, try taking your child to visit the school they will be attending. Let them choose their own school bag and water bottle and set up a school-style play area at home to ease them into a school routine4.
5Did you know constant snacking prevents your child from recognising their own feelings of hunger and fullness? Help get your child into a healthy nutritional routine before they start school by following a few simple steps!
This will ensure your kids are eating familiar foods and follow healthy eating patterns !
Your child’s first few weeks at school is a key period for their cognitive, motor, emotional and communication development to evolve. The skills and subjects learned over the following months will set your child up for a lifetime of learning7.
Early math training provides big benefits. According to studies, it creates changes in a child’s brain, enabling children to become adept at wider problem-solving8. But did you know that you play a key role in your child’s attitude towards math? Psychology studies have shown that children are more receptive to learning when it’s associated with play, so you can help expose your child to math in fun ways9. Try introducing math into your little one’s daily routine like counting steps as you walk10.
Science is another key subject to encourage your child’s natural curiosity. It teaches children about the world around them and nurtures skills like building patience, perseverance and communication with others11. You can take advantage of your child’s sense of wonder by introducing simple scientific experiments. For example, teach them how to use soap to power a toy boat or understand how a cool and dry day can result in static electricity12.
Reading is one of the building blocks for your child’s learning. Did you know that children who have strong linguistic intelligence when they are young tend to become better learners in their school years and beyond13? In fact, according to research conducted by National University of Singapore (NUS), children who learn more than two languages are more able to recall locations or find hidden toys, than those who just learn one language14. You can help build your child’s language skills in almost any situation. Take grocery shopping - describe to your child the different things they’ll see and use at the supermarket, like “aisle”, “cart”, “vegetable” and so on15. These will show your child that what they learn at school is connected to the things they do in daily life16.
Kids are natural innovators with a powerful imagination. Creativity helps them become more confident, develop social skills and learn better17. It’s not just essential for science and math, but also extends to artistic and musical expression18. Music can help with math and reading; dance boosts physical health and builds self-awareness; whilst acting enhances vocabulary19. All these require a great expense of energy so they require a nutrient-dense diet from fresh fruits and vegetables to whole grains and calcium, to maintain proper growth and brain development. Calcium is particularly important, as an adequate calcium intake promotes optimal bone density20, which is needed to help children mature into adulthood21.
22For the first time in your child’s life, they have a small amount of money to spend on whatever they want at school. Although most primary schools have stopped selling junk food – think potato chips and unhealthy drinks – your child still ends up buying the types of food you would rather they avoided. It’s crucial that they consume the right nutrition at home. Make sure they receive essential nutrients which will help to provide a nutrition supplement on top of their current food intake.
What if my child is a slow learner? What if he’s not good at math or takes a longer time to read? One key source of poor performance is when a child experiences discouragement early on23. It’s important that parents remember patience and positive reinforcement, instead of being ashamed if your little one is a bit behind24. Not every child learns at the same pace or in the same way. They may have trouble concentrating, difficulty retaining information or take a longer time to reach milestones like speech and vocabulary25. Try to avoid making comparisons with other children, constantly encourage and reassure your child, and help your child find fun in learning26.
Did you know that giving your child a good breakfast is vital for growing children27?
Research shows that a nutritional breakfast can beneficially impact the way your child grows and performs at school. Make sure you’re giving them the right nutrition to set them up for a day full of learning! There’s a reason why we like our kaya toast with a side of eggs – eggs help keep children fuller longer, sustain their energy and allow them to concentrate for a longer period of time28. You can also supplement your child’s diet with milk formula which contains important nutrients like DHA, vitamins, minerals and prebiotics to help support your child throughout his learning in school.
Friendships form an important part of your child’s development at school, especially when children play together29. This helps develop your child’s social and emotional skills30 which are essential for future relationships. It is important to provide opportunities for your child to play with their new friends outside of their school environment. Setting up playdates is one way to help your child foster new friendships. Look out for key names your child often talks about and invite that favourite friend over for dinner31!
By the end of the first year of school, your child will now be well on their way to forming their own identity. Through independence, your child will develop their personality, learn the ways of life and grow up strong and ready to take on life challenges32.
The more your child is learning at school, the more energy they need to support their progress. Hungry, growing minds need the right nutrition to fuel your little pioneer’s continuous learning and give them essential energy throughout the school day.
DHA, found in milk formula and seafood sources like salmon and sardines33, is a primary component of brain tissues, and is key to effective communications between brain cells. It is an important building block for the brain and eye development. Together with other nutrients such as Vitamin B, Iron, Zinc and Iodine, these help support your child’s overall mental and physical development as they enter primary school. This combination of nutrients help shape and enhance your child’s cognitive, motor, emotional and communication skillsets – integral for your little pioneer’s overall continuous learning.
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