As parents, we want our children to mature into happy, successful, thoughtful adults.

This may lead us to buy them baseball mitts when they’re 3 months old so they will grow up to play professional baseball or to enroll them in ballet at age 2 so they will become the next Nureyev.

We taxi our children from school to art lessons to math tutorials to soccer practice.

But what do children really need for full brain development? How can we raise them to be thoughtful and responsible? Research has shown that at every age, there are age-appropriate experiences that can enhance the brain’s natural maturation process.

What experiences are best for ages 0 to 3?

A photo posted by Melanie (@melanie_hh) on

In the first three years of life, brain connections multiply exponentially—24 million new connections every minute. At the same time, children’s sensory areas and motor areas are maturing.

Children of this age live in a concrete world. They are completely absorbed in their experiences, figuring out what things are and how to function in this universe. They cannot think abstractly about what they are doing.

Children at this age learn by watching you. Their brains make good use of special cells called mirror neurons that let them copy what they see. Much of what they learn is by simply imitating the people around them. Your child copies how you respond to stress, deal with challenges, and react to new situations.

So, what best supports your child’s development at this age?

A nurturing caregiver who provides tons of hugs, a quiet environment, and abundant creative playtime. Research shows that this produces children who are happier and more successful as they grow to adulthood. They don’t need black-and-white mobiles or violin lessons; they need to be allowed to explore their world in safe, nourishing surroundings.

Looking for a fun, age-appropriate activity for you and your tot?

Begin practicing simple yoga postures with your little one.  They can watch you rolling on the floor and join in! To set the best example for your learning toddler, try practicing your yoga for at least a few minutes every day.

This is not the time to teach your little one how to meditate. They do not yet have the appropriate neural connections to “think about thinking.”

What experiences are best for ages 4 to 7?

A photo posted by || l a u r a || (@laurabsea) on

During this period, your child has the most connections between brain cells they will ever have. This vast network means that they can take in new information easily.

So, what best supports your child’s development at this age?

Exposure to and practice using language. Language provides verbal and written symbols for objects and allows children to think about their experiences.

Read books with your child, have conversations, ask questions—and then wait patiently for the response to work its way through the developing network of new brain connections.

Looking for a fun, age-appropriate activity for you and your tot?

Now your child can give different labels to the same object.  A simple cardboard box can be a space ship, a hamburger, or a dog house. This is the time of creative play—a child’s imagination can transform any object into ever-expanding possibilities.

What experiences are best for ages 7 to 10?

A photo posted by @ashyost on

This is the time when the fibers between the hemispheres of the brain gain a fatty coating called myelin that speeds up information flow. This improves the coordination between abstract thinking in the right hemisphere and concrete thinking in the left hemisphere.

Now your child can learn how to work in groups, take turns, and follow rules. They can see how their specific actions (left hemisphere) fit into the abstract concept (right hemisphere) of what’s right and wrong.

So, what best supports your child’s development at this age?

Practice with rule-governed experiences, such as organized sports, music lessons, and board games. Kids this age thrive on rules because rules give a framework to make sense of the world.  At this age, children can begin to control their specific reactions to fit within that abstract framework.

Looking for a fun, age-appropriate activity for you and your kid?

Now might be the perfect time to give meditation a try with your child. Their brain is mature enough so that they can follow meditation instructions and appreciate abstract inner experiences. Plus, meditation offers you and your child a wonderful opportunity to slow down and think mindfully together.

Meditation offers a few additional benefits for you and your growing child, too!

Each form of meditation has its own procedure, purpose, and benefits. Some involve focusing the mind, such as Zen or Vipassana. Practice focusing will help you control your mind during the day.

Others involve open monitoring of experience, such as mindfulness. Open monitoring of thoughts or emotions help you be more mindful during the day.

Others involve effortless transcending, such as Transcendental Meditation.  Transcending thoughts and feelings will add the experience of your silent, innermost self, which helps you organize the many demands made upon you.

For more helpful techniques on providing your growing child with age-appropriate activities, check out Dharma Parenting for strategies that will help you and your child unfold their inner brilliance.

Join Motherly