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Tue, Apr 20, 2010
The Straits Times
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Food for thought
by Leong Phel Phel

LIKE all working mums, it is a challenge for Ms Sabrina Gan (above) to spend time
with her two children, Kaiden, 3-1/2 years old, and Kayinn, 20 months old.

She knows it is important to provide them with an ideal environment to learn
and grow, so she reads to them and plays with them after work.

Ms Gan, 31, a mutual funds investment specialist, says: “I started reading to my
kids when they were around six to seven months old so as to encourage their love for reading.

As my son grew older, I started to introduce a variety of books that would
help improve his vocabulary and literacy skills.

My children clearly enjoy these sessions: my son asks me many questions, and my daughter voluntarily selects her own books and asks me to read to her."

Reading to your child is one of the things you can do to stimulate a child’s development, especially the brain.

Recent research shows that the brain, which is the most immature of all organs
at birth, continues to grow and develop after birth.

Scientists now believe that besides genetics, brain development is highly dependent on the child’s experiences. In addition to nutrients such as protein, fat and vitamins, interactions with other people and objects are also vital for the growing brain.

Dr Dawn Lim a consultant paediatrician at Kinder Clinic, Paragon Medical Centre, says: “A loving and nurturing environment is what parents can provide for their children.

Simple things such as spending lots of quality time with your children, talking to them, reading, playing and singing to them can make a big difference in their development.

“Remember that a child’s growth is physical, mental as well as emotional. These are not mutually exclusive, and so for your child to develop well, all aspects need to be catered for.”

Crucial first years

The first five years of a child’s life are crucial as the development is at an accelerated pace during this period. As children absorb things like a sponge, it is the best time to stimulate them with many activities.

When selecting toys, make sure that they are suitable for the child’s age, besides
being challenging and safe. For three-yearolds, for instance, the toys should encourage the development of motor skills.
Puzzles are also good for children at this age. You can also engage your child in activities like running, kicking a ball and climbing.

To encourage speech development, talk to your child all the time and use every opportunity to teach him new words.

When doing grocery shopping, for instance, teach him the names of fruits. You may also add new information to the words.

Dr Lim suggests: “If your child points to
and says ‘apple’ — you may want to add
‘yes, that’s an apple. It is red and delicious’.

You can then ask further questions like ‘Do you like eating apples?’. In addition, you can say ‘Let’s count how many apples mummy is going to buy’ and count together as you place the apples in the bag.”

Little things that count

In short, it is the little things you do in everyday life that is going to have a profound impact on how your child’s brain develops and how he interacts with people.

Ms Jem Zabat, 31, an engineer, believes in “play with purpose”. When her
son, Earl Jaden or EJ, was 18 months old, she started playing flashcards with him.

She says: “We would scatter the flashcards on the floor and ask him to look for specific letters and numbers.

Later, we introduced him to jigsaw puzzles.We buy toys that we think will help in his development.

“Getting him something that is challenging enough to keep him engaged but
not too complicated to get him frustrated is something that is always on top of our criteria.”

Ms Zabat believes that this early exposure to purposeful playing contributes
to her child’s inquisitiveness. EJ, now 3 years old, asks many questions.

Eating smart

Besides providing the right environment, be sure that your kid is a smart eater. Research shows that it takes a combination of nutrients in the right proportions to enhance your child’s brain, eyes and physical development.

Dr Phuah Huan Kee, a paediatrician from SBCC Neurology Centre
at Mount Elizabeth Medical Centre, says: “For vital brain development,
include foods that are rich in nutrients like DHA, protein, iron, taurine, choline,
zinc, folic acid and selenium.”

Some “brain foods” are fish, eggs and wholewheat products.


This article was first published in The Straits Times.

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