More brain connections form in the first six years of life than at any other time, and the more you use these connections the stronger they get. Brain connections are built on a foundation of “serve and return” interactions. Serve and return refers to give-and-take —healthy interaction that goes both ways. For example, if your baby “serves” by smiling at you, you “return” by smiling back. By doing this, you are showing baby that you understand them and they matter; you are giving them the feedback they need to learn.
Reading a story together is a great example of a serve and return activity, and many have an interactive nature built right into them. On the Alberta Prairie C.O.W. Bus we love The Big Animal Mix-up, a lift-the-flap book by Gareth Edwards and Kanako Usui. It has bright pictures, humour, and a lot of rhythm and rhyme. In the story, Little Bear’s dad tries to teach him about animals: “Hello Little Bear, here’s a story for you, that’s all about animals and what they can do.” Only as the title suggests, they’re all mixed up! He has snakes mixed up with birds, and mice mixed up with whales, now Little Bear (and your child) have to set the record straight.
“Here is a bird. It slithers around. And slides through the jungle with a soft hissing sound.”
“Hang on a minute! You made a mistake. If it hisses and slithers it must be a..… [open flap] SNAKE!”
We never tire of this book, but remember that any book can be made interactive by talking about the pictures, having the child help you with the story, asking open-ended questions, and relating the story to real life.
Building brain connections through serve and return has a big impact on the rest of a child’s life, providing the solid foundation needed for language and emotional health. But don’t forget to have fun while doing it!