From the moment a baby is born, they are constantly learning from their environment and the people around them. Parents are a child’s first teacher and from infancy through adolescence, they play a key role in their growth and development.

While it may seem that newborns don’t do much besides eat, sleep, cry and fill their diapers, they actually come into the world having already learned so much.

“They actually already know their native language, they know the intonation of our speech,” says pediatrician Dr. Pilar Bradshaw. “They know their parents and their loved ones by smell and by touch and by sound.”

Listening to speech is one of the most important ways that babies learn, Dr. Bradshaw says. “If you want to help your baby or child of any age learn, spend a lot of time talking to them.”

Learning through sight
Young infants see black, white and red most easily, so exposing them to still or slow-moving patterns involving those colors is beneficial to their development.

“Once a baby is four months or older, they have good color vison and the ability to track with their eyes much better, so those kids can see the full spectrum of color and that’s a great time to introduce different types of colored objects and moving objects for them to track.”

Babies also love to look at faces, either those of loved ones or even their own. “You can spend a lot of time face to face with your child,” Dr. Bradshaw says. “You can also introduce them to a mirror. Babies love to look at themselves in a mirror and they’re learning a lot by watching themselves.”

Benefits of expressing love
First experiences are very important for your baby’s future, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. That’s why you’re so important to your baby’s growth and development.

Infants spend the first year learning to feel secure about being loved. Love will give your child the physical strength to fight illness, the emotional strength to feel confident, and the ability to learn new things. Loving attention also helps new brain cells connect in ways that help infants:

  • Feel secure and confident.
  • Make sense of new ideas and information.
  • Grow healthy bodies.

Hands-on skills
As young children develop, they learn to continue to use their bodies to make discoveries, which allows them to explore objects and their surroundings in new ways.

Dr. Bradshaw says one of the best things you can do to help a child of any age learn is to encourage hands-on play.

“And what I mean by play is not screens,” Dr. Bradshaw says. “The best learning happens with three-dimensional objects in their hands. So, try to have a lot of time for them to work with art supplies that are safe. Make sure that you give them time to play outside. That’s another place that kids learn a lot naturally from just being out in nature.”

Another simple way to help your kids learn—having meals together as a family.

“We know that it’s one of the most important places that parents can imprint their ways of thinking about the world on their kids if you sit together with a meal,” Dr. Bradshaw says. “And for kids of all ages, just having that opportunity to hear about how the grownups in their world think about things is a really important way of learning.”