Your child's growing brain

Your child's growing brain

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Your child's brain directs and programs the growth of everything in the body. Thanks to explosive advances in neuroscience and technical equipment that lets scientists actually see inside the human brain, we know a great deal about how this central organ develops.

How the brain sizes up
Most of the brain's wiring is established during the first few years of life. At birth it was only about a quarter of its eventual adult size. But by age 2, it has reached three-fourths of adult size! And by 5, the brain will be very close to adult size and volume.

Of course, this doesn't mean your child knows everything a grown-up does by kindergarten. Experience still counts for something!

What this growth means is that the structures of the brain involved in learning, memory, motor control, and every other brain function have been established by age 5. These structures and the neural pathways that send information between them get used and reused throughout life.

These connections, called synapses, are the basis of all the movements, thoughts, memories, and feelings a person has.

Encouraging brain development
No two brains are identical, not even in identical twins. Exactly what kind of connections are made between the neurons (cells) in the brain depends on how the brain is used, the variety and richness of circumstances it's exposed to, and genetics.

In the first year of life, when critical emotional components of the brain are being formed, a secure and predictable environment is most important, including lots of touching and having needs met promptly.

Also key to brain development in the first three years are being talked to, being played with, and having a varied, stimulating environment — balanced by opportunities to rest, which is when the brain reorganizes itself.

These very simple but vital things set the stage for all later learning.

Making strong connections
Surprisingly, the brain of a 2-year-old has trillions of connections — double the number that an adult has! The brain grows connections in response to all kinds of input in order to adapt and survive. Over time, certain connections are used again and again while others fall by the wayside.

This normal process, called neural pruning, explains why it's easiest for a child to learn the precise accent of a language while very young. If the brain isn't exposed to that language regularly, certain synapses wither away and the brain is no longer able to hear or form certain sounds as easily. Neural pruning also explains why routine and repetition are so important to a young child. They facilitate learning and help the brain understand what's important.

Although most brain development occurs during the first three years of life, the school years continue to foster a beehive of busy, buzzing neurons. It's easy for children to learn, especially from about age 3 to age 6 — not just academics, but social rules, dinosaurs' complex names, how to play sports and games, directions, how to work gadgets, what goes where.

The impulse control and judgment parts of the brain, however, develop later in the school years and aren't completely activated until after adolescence.

Watch the video: SuperSkills Episode 1: Did You Know Your Brain Can Grow? (June 2022).


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