Grandparent Discoveries Blog

The First Years: Sparking Delight in Discovery | Insight from Dr. J. Kevin Nugent

Cheryl Beaudoin

I recently had the opportunity to attend a workshop along with Discovery Museum staff as they learned some important lessons in the world of child development from the wonderful J. Kevin Nugent, Ph.D. 

Kevin is a fellow board member of the Museum and a world-renowned expert in early child development, having spent more than 40 years teaching and conducting research on newborn behavior and early parent-infant relations at Boston Children’s Hospital.  He is Founder and Director Emeritus of the Brazelton Institute in Boston, where he worked alongside Dr. T. Berry Brazelton for many years.  I’m sure many of the grandparents out there remember Dr. Brazelton’s books—and maybe even the tv show!—as the go-to resource for learning about child development when our children were babies. I know I was a fan!

The perspective that Kevin provided to our Museum staff is certainly applicable to how we grandparents can think about our interactions with our grandchildren and how we can help to support their development.

Rooted in his extensive research and practice, Kevin’s presentation was entitled, “The First Years: Sparking Delight in Discovery.” Wow, that says it all, right?? Here are some of the big takeaways that resonated with me as applicable for grandparenting:

  • A child’s brain development begins at birth—massive development in brain architecture happens in the first 1000 days, driven by experiences and interactions.
  • Interaction with babies is important to making them feel safe, trusting, loved.  These feelings of early secure attachments stay with them and make a difference in their long-term development. 
  • Babies begin to communicate the moment they are born, actually understanding the world around them. Their behavior is their language. They have theory of mind—they can pick up on cues of adults such as smiles, frowns, tone, etc.—so we need to be aware of our own emotional state when interacting with them.
  • We adults should respect each child’s disposition and style of behavior and learning—we are all unique individuals! We should accept the child in front of us as we listen to and respect them, and find opportunities to know them as a person and foster our relationship.
  • We should support their social learning and understanding of the world around them by engaging them in meaningful activities and encouraging peer interactions.  These can all have a big impact on their development. 
  • This one can be hard, but we should let them explore and discover and not always step in to “help”; we should pull back to see and allow their challenges and successes.  It is hard because we want to help! But if we sit back and watch we can see their persistence in trying to achieve a goal such as tying a shoe, snapping into a high chair, getting dressed by themselves, etc.  They are learning about their world and their abilities. This learning begins at a very early age, sooner than we may think.
  • We should help make our grandchildren feel secure, because security leads to exploration. Those children who don’t feel secure may become adults who are hesitant to take risks. 

As grandparents we have an opportunity to play an early and important role in our grands’ lives and healthy development as they discover their world. What I learned from Kevin is that babies begin learning right away, can communicate from birth, and have more understanding of the world around them than we may have expected. 

For those who want to learn more from Kevin, you can check out his book, Your Baby Is Speaking to You: A Visual Guide to the Amazing Behaviors of Your Newborn and Growing Baby, available at your local library, local bookseller, or online.

How does Kevin’s insight into babies and how they communicate make you reflect on your time spent with your grandchildren? What kind of activities do you do with your grandchildren that can strengthen their social learning?


a grandmother pushes four young children in a large swing, outdoors
Cheryl Beaudoin

Hi, I’m Cheryl: grandmother, retired Kindergarten teacher, longtime friend (and current Board member) of the Discovery Museum—and now, blogger!  As a grandparent, I try to apply what I learned as a teacher about children and their development to strengthen my relationships with my grandchildren and bring them joy. My hope for this blog is to engage with other grandparents in the Museum community to collect and share stories and ideas about the joys—and challenges—of grandparenting, and how we can connect and deepen our relationships with our grandchildren. Please join me in this wonderful journey we are on—I look forward to hearing from you! Use the comment box at the bottom of any blog post or email me at


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