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HOW TO NURTURE YOUR CHILD'S INTELLECT

Just by loving, cuddling, talking and providing for safe exploration - all those things that you do naturally - you are setting up a foundation for intellectual growth. Because some babies will respond to certain activities and not to others, it's always best to let your child set the pace.

- During the first year:

- Stay calm. A relaxed baby is primed for learning. She's getting to know you and establishing routines for eating, sleeping and, eventually, walking. This process is hard work, but you can help her by keeping calm yourself. If a baby seems overstimulated, try using a softer, more rhythmic voice; a darkened room can also be soothing.

- Take your baby with you in a carrier wherever you go and let her experience the sights, sounds and textures of the world beyond her crib.

- Place a mobile over her crib, but don't just let it hang there. Try to vary the number and kinds of objects every few days (you can do this easily with a homemade mobile).

- Play peekaboo and other hiding games that encourage taking turns, an essential element of conversation. Games like rolling a ball through a tunnel will help your child master more complex actions.

- Engage your infant in real conversation. Talk as if she understands what you are saying and use a language style that feels comfortable. This can include baby talk and made-up words.

- During the second year:

- Keep activities unstructured. Encourage lots of free play, both alone and with you. Through play, children learn about roles and behavior in the grown-up world. They also strengthen their ability to categorize: Those farm animals go in the barn, those dishes in the cabinet.

- Look for toys that exercise fine and gross motor skills. A wagon, shopping cart or one of those colorful wooden push toys will delight your little walker.

- Improve her conversational skills by talking to her often, but don't do all the talking yourself. If you don't let your child try to speak, she won't have a chance to practice.

- Correct your child's linguistic errors by showing her rather than telling her. If she says "goed" instead of "went," don't say, "No, it's not `goed,' it's `went.' " Instead, repeat her sentence, using the correct word: "Oh, you went to the park with your playgroup?"

- Read to her. Simple, well-illustrated books are best for the preliterate set, but it's fine to stretch her imagination by reading more complex tales. Children love the sound of words, and they absorb a lot more than you think.