Baby Brain Connection

    Parenting for Early Childhood Literacy

   Early Brain Development

Background Information for "Early Brain Development"

A baby’s brain develops at a rapid rate during the first year. Scientific research shows that timing and quality of early experiences have a strong influence in shaping brain architecture. The 1st year of life is a critical period in helping an infant become aware of language. His brain is making many connections as he learns about his world. When parents do lots of talking, playing, and interacting, and reading with their babies, they are helping their children make the early connections that develop the brain. These stimulating early experiences lay the foundation for later learning. 

Although a baby may not understand the words, he will slowly begin to make links between words and their meanings even when you think he is not understanding or responding to the language. Every time you talk, touch,cuddle, rock, sing, or read to him, you are helping his brain develop. All the interactions promote early language skills, and they increase readiness for learning and achievement at preschool and kindergarten.

The basic design of the brain is built through a process that begins before and soon after birth.  Much of the brain development is established well before a child enters school, and then it continues into adulthood. Scientists continue to research and learn how the brain develops.  What they do know is that there is interplay between nature (the genes that one inherits) and nurture (the kind of care, stimulation, and teaching that the baby receives.) Together, nature and nurture set up a foundation for all of the learning, health, and behavior that follow.

“By the time a child is three years old, the brain has formed one thousand trillion connections.  Some brain cells called neurons are hardwired to other cells before birth and control the baby’s heartbeat, breathing, and reflexes and regulate other important functions to survive.  The rest of the brain connections are waiting to be hooked up.  The connections that neurons make with other neurons are called synapses.  One single brain cell can be connected to more than ten thousand other cells. While parts of the brain develop at different rates, study after study has shown that the peak production for synapses is from birth to about age 10. Scientists continue to research and learn how the brain develops.

​Different neural circuits pass through sensitive periods at different ages. The sensitive periods for neural circuits that perform low-level analyses of sensory stimuli tend to end before or soon after birth. The sensitive periods for high-level circuits that process sophisticated aspects of the world, such as communication signals including language or the interpretation of facial expressions, end later in development.”(Harvard Center for the Developing Child #5)

Research shows that a healthy environment is also critical for early brain development during the first months and years of life. This includes one that has adequate nutrients, free of toxins, and filled with social interactions with an attentive caregiver. When a parent or caregiver provides warm and loving interactions, she is having a lasting effect on how her baby develops and learns, copes with stress, and manages emotions. The best way to help babies’ brain connections is to give them what they need, which is an environment that is interesting to explore, safe, and filled with people who respond to their emotional and intellectual needs. (Silberg) These interactions with parents, caregivers and others adults actually shape brain circuits and lay the foundation for later developmental outcomes: academic performance, mental health, and interpersonal skills.

“Through repetition, brain connections become permanent. If a connection isn't used at all or not often enough, it is not likely to survive.  For example, a child who is rarely spoken to or read to in the early years may have difficulty mastering language skills later. If he is rarely played with, he may have difficulty with social adjustment as he grows.  The brain is wired into a thinking and emotional organ that is formed by what the child experiences. Chances are that a child who has a language-rich environment will learn to speak very well.  When the baby’s coos and babbling are met with smiles rather than indifference, he will likely become emotionally responsive.” (Silber)