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Revving the Engines

Turning everyday moments into brain-building blockbusters for young children

May 7, 2015
Photo of father and young son

During the first five years of life, a child’s brain is like a race car — engines revving, tires spinning, vast distances covered. The brain grows at its fastest rate during these years, creating unrivaled opportunities for learning.

The good news for parents and early caregivers is that these brain-building opportunities don’t require special supplies, expert tutoring, or extra expense. Instead — as a new, science-informed resource from the Bezos Family Foundation makes clear — they arise out of the most ordinary, everyday moments: when you are changing a diaper, when you give a baby a bottle, when you brush your teeth at night.

The new resource is called Vroom!, a website and free mobile app that bundle a variety of tools and activities designed in collaboration with early childhood experts and neuroscientists, including the Harvard Center on the Developing Child, as well as parents and community leaders. The site aims to take all of that expert thinking about cognitive development and boil it down into an easy-to-use set of ideas that begin with a simple, powerful principle: parents already have everything they need to help their kids thrive. By adding a dose of purpose to everyday interactions, and layering on some new interactions, they can ignite the spark.

“When an adult responds appropriately and consistently to a baby or young child with eye contact, words, or gestures, it builds and strengthens neural connections that form the foundation of brain architecture,” says Jack Shonkoff, director of the Center on the Developing Child and one of the scientific advisors to Vroom! “Their brains need and expect that kind of interaction, so tools that help caregivers find opportunities to engage with a child—especially if they are burdened by the stresses of poverty or adversity—will support healthy brain development.”

Vroom! is about making the most of the ordinary moments by turning them into brain-building moments. Broadly, here’s how:

  • Look
    Make eye contact so you and your child are looking at each other.
  • Chat
    Talk about the things you see, hear, and do together, explaining what’s happening around you.
  • Follow
    Take your child's lead by responding to their sounds and actions, even before they are old enough to talk. When they do start talking, ask follow up questions like “What do you think...?” or “Why did you like that?”
  • Stretch
    Make each moment longer by building upon what your child does and says.
  • Take Turns
    With sounds, words, faces, and actions, go back and forth to create a conversation or a game.

Parents and caregivers can visit the Vroom! Tools and Activities page to see a range of activities that fall within those broad categories, and they can download the guidebook for many more. Here’s an example of one of those Vroom! activities:

Suggested Age Range
3–5 years

On the Go
Imagination Station
When you’re waiting at a stoplight or on the subway, make up a story about someone across the street or on the opposite platform. Where is the woman in the hat going? What will she do when she gets there? Try to elaborate on your child’s ideas.

Parents can also download the free Daily Vroom! app and the Vroom! playbook, with information and best practices for introducing Vroom! ideas to their communities, and they can contribute their own fun ideas for engaging with young children.

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