What parent doesn’t want to see their child flourish? Not only physically, but also mentally? Research has shown that babies’ early experiences have a profound impact on brain development. The following suggestions—taken from the American Academy of Pediatrics Books Build Connections Toolkit—are fun, simple, and can be done in everyday life. And best of all: they’re free! No expensive, high-tech, flashy toys required. In fact, the real secret to a smart baby is quality time with you.

Talk to your baby

One of the best things you can do for your baby’s brain is simply talking to her as you go about your day. Whether you’re changing her diaper, feeding her, or taking a walk together, your words are building lasting connections with your baby’s brain that will lay the foundation for speech, language, and cognitive abilities.

Sing to your baby

Singing to your baby is a fun way for you and your baby to tune into each other. Repetitive songs with hand motions are especially engaging for babies. They can help stimulate your baby’s brain to help learn new words as well as encourage turn-taking and social interaction.

Imitate your baby

Back-and-forth imitation between you and your baby encourages shared attention, motions, and social interactions. Essentially, it’s a form of early conversation. So don’t hesitate to engage your baby by making funny faces at her that she just might copy and repeating the sounds that she makes.

Read to your baby

Research shows that cuddling up with a good book with your child can strengthen language, literacy, and motivation to learn. It doesn’t matter if your baby’s attention span is initially short. What matters most is you’re spending quality time with your baby and engaging her mind along the way.

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