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2 min read

One of the best things you can do for brain development in children under 3 is actually perfectly aligned with Montessori.

It's the simple practice of Serve and Return with your child. 

    What is Serve and Return? 

    It can be done from birth and works like a game of tennis between you and your child. 

    The child “serves” by reaching out for interaction, with eye contact, facial expressions, gestures, babbling, or touch.

    A responsive caregiver will “return the serve” by speaking back, playing peekaboo, smiling, hugging or making eye contact and acknowledging the interaction. 

    When an adult responds appropriately to a child's attempt to interact, neural connections are built and strengthened.

    These connections not only support the development of communication and social skills, but 
    many aspects of brain development:
    • Increased cognitive competence
    • Fewer psychological problems
    • Larger total brain volume and larger grey matter volume
    • Improved connectivity between the hippocampus and areas important for emotional regulation 
    And it's worth noting that a lack of Serve and Return interaction also triggers a stress response. We are biologically wired for this back and forth and will painfully feel it's absence. 

    You can check the sources of all those benefits here >

    Montessori serve and return Harvard

    Feeling guilty yet?

    Ok so we're all guilty of pulling out our phones to check messages or doing some chores and leaving our little ones to play independently. 

    Should you be sitting with your child all day, never missing an opportunity to interact with them?

    No, definitely not! Our children need breaks from social interaction, just like we do. They need time to quietly focus and process what's going on in the world around them.

    When you notice your child is absorbed in a task, that's a great opportunity to take your own break.

    You can see why Serve and Return fits so perfectly in the Montessori philosophy. It's all about following the child's lead. 

    What if you work all day or have limited time to spend with your child?

    Make it good quality time. Get down on their level, give them your full attention, and turn off the distracting electronics. 

    Engage in as much serve and return as your child is interested in throughout the time you spend with them, even if it's only an hour a day.

    What about for older children? Is Serve and Return still important?

    Yes! People of all ages need to feel engaged.

    It's just a little easier to do with older children since they likely have more defined interests and can communicate them.

    For older children, you can simply follow their lead. Listen to them, play with them, make eye contact, give them your full attention.

    If you're curious to learn more about this concept, there's an even more thorough write up on the website for The Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University >

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