The research is pretty clear and consistent about how brain development impacts children in their early years. The following article excerpt from the University of Maine, Extension office provides information on how the brain develops AND guidelines for the care of young children to promote healthy brain development and school readiness.
Children and Brain Development: What We Know About How Children Learn
Prepared by Judith Graham, Extension human development specialist. Revised by Leslie A. Forstadt, Ph.D. Child and Family Development Specialist
Like constructing a house, brains are built upon a strong foundation. This starts before birth, and is very important during the first three years of life. Brain cells are “raw” materials — much like lumber is a raw material in building a house, and a child’s experiences and interactions help build the structure, put in the wiring, and paint the walls. Heredity (nature) determines the basic number of “neurons” (brain nerve cells) children are born with, and their initial arrangement.
At birth, a baby’s brain contains 100 billion neurons, roughly as many nerve cells as there are stars in the Milky Way, and almost all the neurons the brain will ever have. The brain starts forming prenatally, about three weeks after conception. Before birth, the brain produces trillions more neurons and “synapses” (connections between the brain cells) than it needs.
During the first years of life, the brain undergoes a series of extraordinary changes.
In the brain, the neurons are there at birth, as well as some synapses. As the neurons mature, more and more synapses are made. At birth, the number of synapses per neuron is 2,500, but by age two or three, it’s about 15,000 per neuron. The brain eliminates connections that are seldom or never used, which is a normal part of brain development.
“Windows of opportunity” are sensitive periods in children’s lives when specific types of learning take place. For instance, scientists have determined that the neurons for vision begin sending messages back and forth rapidly at 2 to 4 months of age, peaking in intensity at 8 months. It is no coincidence that babies begin to take notice of the world during this period.
Scientists believe that language is acquired most easily during the first ten years of life. During these years, the circuits in children’s brains become wired for how their own language sounds. An infant’s repeated exposure to words clearly helps her brain build the neural connections that will enable her to learn more words later on. Language can be learned a multitude of ways, like casual conversation, songs, rhymes, reading, music, story-telling and much more. Early stimulation sets the stage for how children will learn and interact with others throughout life. A child’s experiences, good or bad, influence the wiring of his brain and the connection in his nervous system. Loving interactions with caring adults strongly stimulate a child’s brain, causing synapses to grow and existing connections to get stronger. Connections that are used become permanent. If a child receives little stimulation early on, the synapses will not develop, and the brain will make fewer connections.
The full article is available online at http://umaine.edu/publications/4356e/
For more information on your child’s development, The Growing Years: Developmental Mailings (from Healthy Start) are available online at:
This is Part 1 of a 3-part series on brain development and school success. Part 2 will provide suggestions on how to support brain development and school readiness. Part 3 provides information on STEM and how early education programs support science/math learning.