Five Ways to Promote Optimal Brain Development in Children

By Patty Costello

June 7, 2018   •   Fact checked by Dumb Little Man

optimal brain development

Parents want what’s best for their children but making sure you’re encouraging optimal brain development isn’t that easy.

In general, a child’s brain requires a wide variety of experiences and environmental stimulation to develop normally. To boost brain development, a child’s typical early environment should be rich in sensory, language, and social experiences for optimal brain development to occur.

If you are unsure if you’re doing the right thing, here are five ways to ensure that your child’s brain growth is optimized, explained by the latest neuroscience research. Let’s go!

Create a vibrant home literacy environment

This mean that books and reading should become a part of your family’s daily activities. This can increase literacy and thinking skills.

What are the best ways to create a good home literacy environment?

  • Read books to your children every day. Make reading a part of your morning, nap or bedtime (or all three!) routines. Yes, your child will beg for “one more book” and that’s ok!
  • Give your child access to books – Purchase books and keep them in your child’s room.
  • Make weekly library trips part of your normal routine. This might involve checking out every “Pete the Cat,” “Curious George,” and “Otis the Tractor” book that ever existed.
  • Make sure to have “literary artifacts” present in the home – Keep newspapers, magazines, and your own books at home. If your spouse complains about the pile of magazines, calmly point out the benefit of these “literary artifacts”.
  • Model the pleasure of reading – Read in front of your children to encourage them to do the same thing.

See Also: 7 Reasons To Start Reading Books? Here’s why!

Maximize your child’s exposure to language

  • Speak to your child every chance you get – Use your regular vocabulary (but not swear words), ask questions, and answer your children’s questions. Don’t yell as they will likely do the same thing.
  • Read to your child: Picture books contain more unique words than plain conversations. This makes picture books an important source of vocabulary for young children.
  • Talk to your child about numbers, letters, colors, shapes, and point out the names of things around them as often as possible.

Provide enriching cognitive experiences

cognitive development

  • Children love toys and non-battery operated ones that work through interaction are the best – This includes toys that tap into both gross and fine motor skills
  • Play games with your children and encourage them to play on their own. This includes age-appropriate puzzles, drawing, and play-dough.
  • Music – Provide access to an instrument (or a toy instrument), radio, and a variety of music. Your child is likely the only person who will enjoy your singing and vice-versa.
  • Expose them to as little screen time as possible – It limits a child’s ability to use his imagination.
  • Give your child choices – Ask for their opinion on what they want to play, eat, and wear.
  • Ensure that your child receives lessons or belongs to a sports/music/art/dance/drama organization – One at a time is fine. More is not better and will only exhaust both of you.
  • Plan museum or other educational outings on a regular basis. Be sure that you have fun, too!



  • Embrace physical affection often – This can include cuddling, reading on your lap, and hugs. It gives you an oxytocin (the bonding hormone) boost, too.
  • Have your child help clean up – Age-appropriate chores are important so they can participate at home. This is not considered as child labor.
  • Play with your child – Have them play with other children or siblings. Remember to play with each one, too.
  • Interact with nature on a weekly basis. Simulated nature on a screen does not count.

Consistent routines

  • Eat at least two meals a day with your child. This might be a meal that you’ve taught them to cook!
  • Try your best to ensure that eating, napping, playing, and bedtime all occur on a regular, predictable schedule. Remember, you are the one who’s in charge.
  • Make sure that your child gets adequate amount of sleep.
  • Incorporate a bedtime routine that is predictable and enjoyable for everyone.


A child’s brain needs input. If there’s no input, the brain gets rid of its unused connections. This creates what’s called “exaggerated synaptic pruning”. It causes the brain to deliberately remove neuron connections that are important for thinking, reasoning, and the ability to control emotions.

The latest brain scan research has also shown that brain thickness is correlated with cognitive stimulation. Children that experience lower levels of cognitive and social stimulation, interaction with adults, linguistic complexity, and access to enriching experiences undergo accelerated neuron loss throughout the outer layers of the brain. This has implications for cognitive and academic outcomes later in life.

Studies that followed children over long periods of time have shown that accelerated cortical thinning in childhood is associated with decreased school performance and test scores in adolescents. In contrast, greater thickness in the cortex is associated with better school performance and test scores in later childhood and adolescence.

Bottom line: Every parent wants what’s best for their child. Hopefully, these tips made that goal easier to achieve.

Patty Costello

Patty lives in Boise, Idaho and grew up in St. Paul, Minnesota. She has a PhD in Neuroscience from the University of Minnesota. She is the author of the children's book "Catalina and the King's Wall." More at

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