What would you say if you are told that a human baby is born with an underdeveloped brain? Yes, you read it right. A human newborn’s brain is only half as developed as an adult’s brain. Research reveals that human babies are born too soon. Ideally, humans should have a gestation period of 21 months to give birth to self-sufficient newborns in terms of neurological and cognitive development. Our big brain, upright locomotion, and narrow birth canal have put our newborns on the back foot compared to the babies of other primates such as chimpanzees.
So, what our babies miss out on due to a shorter gestation period is achieved in the first few years of their life—that is, rapid and astonishing brain development. By the time your baby turns one year old, their brain would have doubled in size and would be making more than one million neural connections each second. The first three years of your baby’s life are the most critical time for brain development and early childhood education.
Here’s all you need to know.
How The Brain Develops at Different Stages of Early Childhood
Brain development in human babies begins when they are still in their mother’s womb. However, nature does not wait for the process to be completed within the safe space of the womb and lets the baby out to learn things the harder way—that is by exploring its surrounding and experiencing external stimuli. Brain development from birth onwards is shaped by the baby’s experiences and interactions they have with the world around them.
The first six months are when most of the significant neural connections are built in a baby’s brain. These connections enable them to move, communicate, think and do things. By the time a child is three years old, the brain has over 1000 trillion synapses and would be grown to 80 per cent of its adult size.
Interestingly as your child grows, the synapses don’t increase but are ‘pruned’ as the brain prioritises the most recurrent connections. By adolescence, your child would have about 500 trillion synapses only. The human brain develops until the age of years 20 or so, and then you do what you know.
That puts a lot of onus on you, the parents, to expand the horizon for your newborn and allow them to experience and explore as much as they can. What they learn or do at this stage is most likely to stay with them and lay the foundation for who they will be in the future.
Why It is Important to Pay Attention to Brain Development in Early Childhood
Focusing on your child’s brain development and early childhood education in the initial years will help your child hone skills and make the best of the talents they are born with. If you are wondering, “What is the importance of brain development in early childhood?” then this article is for you. Read on.
- Brain Development at This Stage Influences All Further Learning
Genetics plays an important role in determining a child’s IQ levels, talents, and skills. But that is just one side of the coin. The other side is, nurture. How you raise your child, and the experience and exposure you offer to them play a crucial role in completing the picture. Children who are neglected in their early years of life usually grow up to have lower cognitive abilities compared to children who are taken care of as babies and toddlers.
- The Brain’s Capacity to Adapt Reduces with Age
For the first 100 days, babies make about 1000 neural connections every second. These connections are hard to develop later in life. These connections are made through your child’s everyday experiences, relationships and the environment they grow up. So, it is very important to pay attention to your child at this stage to ensure they do not miss out on opportunities that can help them excel in the future.
- This is a Critical Period For Forming Synaptic Connections
A child’s brain growth happens in spurts. During the early years of brain development, the synaptic connections in different parts of the brain are malleable and plastic. Once the critical period passes, the synapses stabilise and become less malleable. This is one of the reasons why it is much easier for children to learn new languages compared to adults.
How Do You Promote Brain Development in Early Childhood?
Good parenting, giving your child a loving environment at home, caring for them, and encouraging them to do age-appropriate intelligence-boosting activities can do wonders for their brain development in early childhood. Here are some ways you can support brain development in babies.
- Provide a Safe Environment for Your Baby to Explore The World Around Them
Children are ready to learn from the time they are born. They depend on their family and caregivers to help them develop the right skills and synaptic connections. Your child explores the world around them by reaching out for toys, babbling and mimicking sounds, discovering new textures by touching, putting things in their mouth, and more. They indulge in these activities the best when they are well taken care of and feel safe and secure. Create an environment of freedom and trust in your home. Allow your child liberty to experience and learn, and be there for them when they falter. Holding your baby often, giving them attention, maintaining eye contact when talking to them, and playing with them are some ways to encourage your baby to explore their surroundings.
- Expose Your Child to New Ideas and Concepts Through Storytelling
Children love stories. You can read stories from books or create your own stories. Telling them stories is a healthy and creative way to keep them entertained and engaged. In addition, it also boosts their brain development and early childhood education. Studies reveal that storytelling and reading picture books increase prefrontal activity in a child’s brain, thus contributing to cognitive development.
It allows your child to explore the rhythm of language, introduces them to new words, phrases and concepts and helps build vocabulary. It also encourages children to use their imagination. Using pictorial aids such as picture cards while sharing stories further strengthens the connection between words and their meaning.
- Talk to Your Child to Strengthen Their Language and Communication Skills
Use every opportunity you get to talk to your child. Just because they aren’t talking back doesn’t mean they aren’t listening. Talking to babies helps build a connection with them and makes them feel secure. It also stimulates the baby’s brain and aids in vocabulary building and language development. Your child grows familiar with words and the shape your mouth makes to create different sounds. As months pass by, you’ll see your child mimicking these shapes and actions and repeating the things you say.
You can talk to your child about anything. When they’re infants, talk to them about what you’re doing. When they grow older and start understanding conversations, talk to them about what’s happening in their day, the interactions they have, what they see around them and so on.
- Respond to Your Child’s Actions and Reactions
From a very young age, children love engaging with their parents and caregivers. Even before they can speak, they smile, cry and coo to communicate their needs. As they grow older, these cues become more direct. Toddlers point to the things they want and start talking to express themselves. Each of these ‘cues’ is an opportunity for you to interact with your baby and help build their cognitive connections. The more you interact with them, the more their brain will pick the nuances of language and communication.
Spend time with them, sing rhymes, speak to them in baby talk, sing songs and so on. When babies say words, repeat them to reinforce the connection. When toddlers ask questions, give them answers even if you’re repeating yourself for the nth time.
- Play Games
For babies and toddlers, playing games is a way to learn new things. It helps them improve their communication skills, develop a problem-solving attitude, to be imaginative and creative, build connections and relationships between things and people, and have new experiences.
Playing games with your child is a good way to help them develop coordination, problem-solving, motor development, and other such skills. You can play role-play games with dolls and stuffed toys, or developmental games such as with push-pull toys, stacking bowls, sorting shapes, playing with blocks, and solving simple puzzles.
Summing It Up
As a parent, you can strengthen the link between brain development and early childhood education by interacting and engaging with your child as much as possible. Every parent wants their child to live up to their full potential. Many things you do with your baby now can lead to bigger results in the future.
Encouraging your child to do age-appropriate activities that are specifically designed to trigger their senses and boost learning daily, can yield results beyond your imagination. At Raising Superstars, we specialise in developing and delivering programmes that can help your child unleash their true potential in the future. To know what you can do to help your child to be the best version of themselves, contact us today.