Memory Abilities in Infancy and How to Build Connections in Baby’s Hippocampus (0-24 Months)

Memory Abilities in Infancy and How to Build Connections in Baby’s Hippocampus (0-24 Months)

Scientists discovered that two parts of the brain not usually associated with language development can predict a child’s linguistic skills by her or his first birthday.

The study released by the University of Washington’s Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences(I-LABS) found that children with greater concentration of white and gray matter in the hippocampus and cerebellum by the time they were a year old showed higher language ability.

I will share some information here about the hippocampus, followed by 10 ways to stimulate your child’s hippocampus using novel objects.  I’ll concentrate on the cerebellum in a post late this week, so be sure to check back!

The hippocampus, which handles memory, is a crucial brain structure for school readiness and success in life.  Without stimulation to this brain region in infancy, memory will not develop as it should.  In an article titled “Memory and Early Brain Development” by Patricia J Bauer, PhD and Thanujeni Pathman, MA at Emory University, researchers studied the development of declarative memory (i.e., memory that includes the recognition and recall of names, objects and events).  Not surprisingly, they found that memory improves substantially throughout the first and second years of life, both in terms of the length of time infants can remember as well as how reliably they remember.

In an elicited imitation task, in which infants are presented with novel objects and are shown how to use them in a certain way, the researchers found that six-month olds remembered the actions with the objects for 24 (but not 48) hours, nine-month olds remembered for one month (but not three months), and by 20 months of age, infants remembered for as long as one year!  This tells us how important it is to expose infants to novel objects and actions frequently so that their hippocampus will develop a density of brain connections.  Infants who spend time in a setting with the same objects and actions being shown to them daily will not develop as many connections in this part of their brain as those who are out and about in the great big world seeing many different kinds of objects used in multiple ways by a wide variety of people.

Below is are 10 object/action pairs to help build brain connections in the hippocampus of a 0-24 month old.  I recommend putting together a pail-full or box of 10 objects just for these objects (Important: the objects are supposed to be “novel” so they need to be something out of baby’s ordinary experience).  That way, you can pull them out at the appropriate point in time to be sure baby has stored the object/action memory accurately.  Remember, expect a 6-month old to remember the action with the novel object the next day.  Expect a 9-month old to remember the object/action memory a month later.  Expect a 20-month old to remember the action performed with the object at least a few months later.  Put a reminder on your calendar to test your child’s memory when appropriate for your child’s age!

Directions:  Hold the object for 3-5 seconds about 18 inches in front of baby’s eyes.  Once he has clearly “studied” it, perform the action listed.  Then, give the object to baby.  He will imitate your action with the object.  Smile and tell baby “Nice job ______!” (fill in the blank with the action/verb + “ing” + “it”;  e.g., “Nice job tapping it” or “Nice job balancing it”).  Remove the object and replace it with something baby likes/prefers.

Store the object in the bucket or box.  Bring it out at the appropriate time since you showed/performed last (e.g., bring it out a day later for a 6-month old, etc.).  Hand him/her the object (Don’t repeat the action;  just hand baby the object).  Wait for baby to perform the same action you showed him/her with the object.

  1. Object:  Piece of fabric (e.g., a colorful rag, a swatch of fabric about 6 inches by 6 inches, etc.).   Action:  Toss it in the air.                                                                                     
  2. Object:  Light kitchen utensil that is not sharp  (e.g., a chopstick, a melon baller, toaster tongs, etc.).  Action:  Tap it on the floor 3-4 times.
  3. Object:  Small jewelry box or gift card box.   Action:  Balance it on your head.
  4. Object:  Colorful shoestring.   Action:  Pull it along the floor and make a “Ssss” sound (like a snake)
  5. Object:  Holiday ornament/decoration (non-breakable) that is round in shape (Choose one that belongs to holiday that hasn’t occurred in a long while, so that the object is mostly novel to baby.).  Action:  Roll it along the floor under the palm of your hand.
  6. Object:  Trivet/potholder.  Action:  Put it on the floor while sitting next to it and place one of your feet on it for 2-3 seconds.
  7. Object:  Stray lid (e.g., from a playdough container, a kitchen storage container, etc.).  Action:  Balance it on your arm for 2-3 seconds.
  8. Object:  Plastic cup, bowl, vase, container .    Action:  Place it on the floor right side up.  Then turn it upside down. Continue turning it right side up and upside down 2-3 times.
  9. Object:  Newborn baby item (e.g., hospital wristband, baby booty, medicine spoon, etc.).  Action:  Move it about your head from left to right and right to left 2-3 times.
  10. Object:  Tape measure.   Action:  Place it on top of a book on the floor or into a plastic storage bag (quart or gallon size, so it’s large enough for baby to try to get it into the bag easily)
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