Tips for Parents
Enriching Your Child's Home Life
By Susan Magsamen, SVP Early Learning
What does an enriched home life look like? How will it help my child learn?
To enrich something means to fill it with desirable ingredients. For example, enriched soil contains nutrients and nitrogen to help plants grow. So what are the ingredients in an enriched home? Mountains of expensive, fancy toys? Nope. If your goal is to promote early childhood learning and development, you don’t have to be “rich” at all to make your home enriched.
Experiments using laboratory animals have taught us which elements matter most for enriching an environment. Lab rats generally live in very simple cages. They have food. They have water. They have cotton balls for making nests. Scientists who study enriched environments house their rats in large cages with many other rats, running wheels, and diverse toy objects that are changed regularly. Together, these elements provide the rats with a variety of stimuli, social interaction, physical activity, and the opportunity to explore. Rats raised in such cages perform better on tests of memory, are more curious, and more resistant to stress. Their brain cells have more connections with one another and the brain produces more neurotrophins, or chemical signals that promote brain health.
So how does this translate to a child's environment? A variety of toys that are changed often will provide your child with cognitive stimulation and promote curiosity and exploration. The toys don’t need to be fancy. In fact, toys that require imagination, like cardboard boxes and old clothes for dress-up, are often the most stimulating! As children get older, access to books is also important and the public library can help keep the selection varied. Opportunities for social interaction are important too. Engaging with parents, family members, and visiting friends provides cognitive stimulation and helps build language and social skills. You can also enrich your home life with trips to the zoo, local parks, museums, and other states or countries if possible, and add valuable variety to your child’s experience. Finally, limit screen time and encourage physical activity.
Human studies have confirmed that enriching your home in this way will help your child to develop better language, memory, and social skills. Enriched environments also boost cognitive function in adults, so you'll benefit too!