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How to Raise a Smart Baby

Confused by the sheer number of smart baby toys, books, and videos? Relax. All your baby really needs to boost brainpower is you.

Smart Babies: Trust Your Instincts continued...

O'Donnell agrees: "What mattered to babies a thousand years ago is still what matters today:  You, the parent, are your baby's best learning tool."

Indeed, experts conclude that talking to your baby, playing with your baby, paying attention to what interests your baby, and using those interests to foster curiosity lays down the wiring that ultimately stimulates your baby's brain to grow and develop.  

Moreover, O'Donnell says that educational TV -- shows like Sesame Street  or even videos like Baby Einstein -- are not necessarily a bad thing, as long as they are in addition to, and not a replacement for, one-on-one contact.

"Experiences that have emotional content and human interaction are what is pleasurable and meaningful to a baby. They act like glue for their memory, helping them to retain what they are picking up and learning," says O'Donnell.

Experts say among the best ways to do that is by reading. But don't just read to your child; read with them.  O'Donnell says to turn it into an interactive experience that engages their imagination and their curiosity.

"If you turn a child into a passive recipient, they are going to get far less out of the experience then if you engage them in the process," says O'Donnell.  In the case of reading, she says that means having them point to pictures they like and use them to help identify colors, shapes, animals -- anything that engages their interest.

Smart Babies: Add Some Love

In addition to playing an active role in your child's learning process, experts say that simply loving and nurturing your baby will also do wonders for turning up the wattage on the child's brain power.

"Some caregivers believe that when they plunk a baby in front of a TV and she sits quietly, not making a fuss, that she is a happy and contented baby. But what many don't realize is that when babies are stressed, very often they respond by shutting down, and when they do that, learning isn't taking place," says O'Donnell.

Smart Babies: Toy Tips

While experts agree that toys can be a great way to help foster the growth of your baby's brain power, the sheer number of companies hawking for a parent's attention can leave you dizzy with indecision.

Sandra Gordon, mother of two and author of Consumer Reports Best Baby Products, says the key is to choose both toys and activities that track with your child's natural biological stages of development. When you do, she says, you're speaking a language your baby can understand.

She also recommends simple toys that are age-appropriate so they don't frustrate your child. Infants, she says, are most interested in movement and sound, so shaking a rattle or a key ring will stimulate them. As they get a little older, she recommends textural toys they can touch and squish in their hands, such as stuffed animals.

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