Understanding Brain Development in Young Children
This publication is intended to assist parents understand how a child's brain develops and their important role in interacting with children to support brain development.
A child's first words. Grasping a spoon. Babies turning their head in recognition of a mother's voice. What do these things have in common? All of them are examples of a young child's developmental "steps" forward.
Perhaps no aspect of child development is so miraculous and transformative as the development of a child's brain. Brain development allows a child to develop the abilities to crawl, speak, eat, laugh and walk. Healthy development of a child's brain is built on the small moments that parents and caregivers experience as they interact with a child.
Think of some recent memories when you have watched a baby or toddler.
• As a mother feeds her child, she gazes lovingly into his eyes.
• A father talks gently to his daughter as she snuggles on his lap and he reads her a book.
• A caregiver sings a child to sleep.
These everyday moments, these simple loving encounters, provide essential nourishment.
What Do We Know About Brain Development?
As scientists learn more about how the human brain develops, many of our ideas about the brain are being challenged. We are learning that some old ideas actually were myths that are being replaced with new facts and understanding. Consider the following examples:
Brain Development - Myth or Fact?
Myth 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.
Reprinted with the permission of North Dakota State University.
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