We’re proud to offer a series of articles written by our consulting physician, Alan Greene, MD. Dr. Greene is the founder of DrGreene.com, an award-winning online resource about children’s health, and the author of Raising Baby Green. He is on the Board of Directors for The Organic Center, Healthy Child Healthy World, and on the advisory board of Pregnancy Awareness Month. Dr. Greene provides consulting services for, and is paid a fee by, Horizon Organic.
During the toddler years your child’s body undergoes a dramatic makeover. Here’s some of what to expect: One-year-olds, even if they are already toddling about, still look rather like babies. Their bellies are round. Their arms, legs, and baby bottoms are small and softly contoured. By the second birthday, the arms, legs, and bottom will be more muscular; the body straighter, more angular; and the facial features will have changed—even strangers will know at a glance whether this is a boy or a girl. And the head will have grown to 90 percent of its adult size!
The brain continues to grow throughout the toddler years faster than it ever will again. But it’s not just physical brain growth. Toddler language development and toddler emotional development are racing ahead as well. Language development is perhaps the most dramatic. At the beginning of this period, most will only say a word or two; by the second birthday some will be using fifty different words—others as many as one hundred! Here are a few suggestions for parents to make the most of this window of toddler development:
1. Read aloud with your child. Ask questions. Point things out. Interactive reading is a great way to improve toddler reading skills. Reading enhances cognitive development in infants and toddlers alike. This simple, enjoyable habit has been shown to help them develop language and early reading skills and to enhance their readiness to succeed in school when the time comes.1
2. Make music a part of your child’s life, whether listening to music, dancing about, plunking on a keyboard, shaking maracas or all of the above. The more we learn about the effects of music on children, the broader the benefits we see. Music can enhance both language and mathematics learning, and changes the way the executive parts of the brain function, which could enhance learning and performance in many areas.2,3
3. Play outside. Play and motor development in infants and toddlers are obviously linked. But play and brain development are tightly linked as well. When kids play outdoors they are often more active and feel better, learn better, and behave better afterwards.
4. Eat brain food. Toddlers’ growing, changing, remodeling bodies are built out of the food they eat. While many people may not link nutrition and brain development, good nutrition for toddlers really can help support brain health.4
Organic food is always a sensible choice because it’s made without the use of toxic synthetic pesticides. Some of these pesticides have been linked to problems in early childhood development, including brain development.5 And of course organic milk provides the benefit of abundant calcium as well. A healthy diet for kids is a powerful gift for them. At this time of great transition and opportunity, toddler nutrition is central to toddler health.
1. Zuckerman B and Khandekar A. “Reach out and read: evidence based approach to promoting early child development.” Current Opinions in Pediatrics. Aug 2010; 22(4):539-44.
2. Schlaug G, Norton A, Overy K, Winner E. “Effects of music training on the child’s brain and cognitive development.” Annals of the New York Academy of Science. Dec 2005; 1060:219-30.
3. Trainor LJ, Shahin AJ, and Roberts LE. “Understanding the benefits of musical training: effects on oscillatory brain activity.” Annals of the New York Academy of Science. Jul 2009; 1169:133-42.
4. Hawley T. with contributions by Gunner M. “Starting Smart: How Early Experiences Affect Brain Development.” (2nd Edition). For Ounce of Prevention Fund and Zero to Three. 2000.
5. Rauh VA, et al. “Impact of Prenatal Chlorpyrifos Exposure on Neurodevelopment in the First 3 Years of Life Among Inner-City Children.” Pediatrics. Vol. 118, No. 6 Dec 2006, pp. e1845-e1859.
Rauh VA, et al. 7-Year Neurodevelopmental Scores and Prenatal Exposure to Chlorpyrifos, a Common Agricultural Pesticide. Whyatt Environmental Health Perspectives. April 2011, Nov 2010.