Research has provided great insight into how the brain develops after birth. We look at some of the myths and facts.
In most regions of the brain, no new neurons are formed after birth. Instead, brain development consists of an ongoing process of wiring and re-wiring the connections among neurons. Even prior to birth, synapses constantly form new connections between cells, while others are broken or pruned away. In early childhood the brain is genetically programmed to produce more synapses than it will ultimately use.
The pruning of synapses happens over the childhood years
as the different areas of the brain develop. Pruning allows the brain to keep the connections that have a purpose, while eliminating those that aren’t doing anything. An 'over-pruning' of these connections can occur when a child is deprived of normally expected experiences in the early years. This leaves the child struggling to do what would have come more naturally otherwise.
Some areas of the brain become less changeable when the pruning is over. This has led to tremendous concern about providing what the brain needs to prune and organize itself correctly before the "windows of opportunity" close.
This is not to say that individual genetic differences have no influence on how a child develops; they do. But there is mounting evidence that experiences affect the way genes are expressed in the developing brain. While good early experiences help the brain to develop well, experiences of neglect and abuse can literally cause some genetically normal children to become mentally retarded or to develop serious emotional difficulties.Tackle the issues early
A new consensus is emerging about the importance of intervening with families of disadvantaged children
in the first months and years of life to ensure they provide the kinds of experiences that support optimal development.
Parents who are preoccupied with a daily struggle to ensure that their children have enough to eat and are safe from harm may not have the resources, information, or time they need to provide the stimulating experiences that foster optimal brain development.
Infants and children who are rarely spoken to, who are exposed to few toys, and who have little opportunity to explore and experiment with their environment may fail to fully develop the neural connections and pathways that facilitate later learning. Despite their normal genetic endowment, these children are at a significant intellectual disadvantage and are likely to require costly special education or other remedial services when they enter school. Myths and factsMyth:
At birth the brain is fully developed, just like one's heart or stomach.Fact:
Most of the brain's cells are formed before birth, but most of the connections among cells are made during infancy and early childhood.Myth:
The brain's development depends entirely on the genes with which you are born.Fact:
Early experience and interaction with the environment are most critical in a child's brain development.Myth:
A toddler's brain is less active than the brain of a college student.Fact:
A 3-year-old toddler's brain is twice as active as an adult's brain.Myth:
Talking to a baby is not important because he or she can't understand what you are saying.Fact:
Talking to young children establishes foundations for learning language during early critical periods when learning is easiest for a child.Myth:
Children need special help and specific educational toys to develop their brainpower.Fact:
What children need most is loving care and new experiences, not special attention or costly toys. Talking, singing, playing and reading are some of the key activities
that build a child's brain.Do you know of any other initiatives to improve our children’s reading?