Brain Development 101

For those who are unaware, I have started a YouTube channel where I will be sharing all the tips, strategies and developmental information I have learned over the years related to the infants, toddlers and preschoolers. My promise was to share that info in four minutes or less. One video in and I’ve already learned that this is going to be a BIG challenge. Could it be that I am more chatty than I thought? Anyhow, knowing that there are some folks out there who might want a little bit more meat with their potatoes, I will share the video here providing a little more elaboration on the video topic.

So why talk about brain development. To be honest with you, I think that having a basic understanding of brain development is one of the most important tool in our parenting toolbox. Understanding brain development allows parents, caretakers and educators to ensure that they are using developmentally appropriate strategies with their littles. In this video, I did a REALLY quick overview of brain structure and how it works. What do I think are the most important takeaways?

  • Upon birth, our kids brains are like large, open fields with a few small walking paths here and there. By the time they are three, that field will now be an intricate highway systems with multiple ramps, bridges and exits

  • The rapid growth is due to the myelination process creating neural connections between results. Did you know that a child’s brain is 85% adult sized by the age of three due to the all of the connections?

  • The myelination process is expedited by repetition. This is why young children like doing the same songs and fingerplays or look at the same book over and over. It can be tiresome for us as adults, but it fuels the connections in their brain.

  • Development of the brain is from the back to the front, meaning neural pathways at birth are primarily developing in the brain stem/lower brain. With repeated experiences with caretakers and their environment, these connections start to extend to the mid-brain and eventually the outer brain. Logical and analytical thinking develops around the age of 6 or 7. This is an important piece of information for us as parents and caretakers as we often expect our preschoolers and kindergartners in particular to make “smarter” decisions.

And what are the best things we can do as parents and caretakers to encourage healthy brain development for our kids?

  • Give them lots of love! Feeling connected and safe is the best way to develop healthy brains. There are numerous studies that show the detrimental effect that stress has on young children’s brains. In an article on brain hierarchy by Alene Villaneda, she states “The development of higher functioning skills like reasoning, reading, language and problem solving cannot work in the classroom if your child’s lower systems that control automatic movement, emotions and survival impulses are not working properly. Furthermore development of the lower system for sensory stimulation, motor skills, balance and positive emotional experiences directly affect your child’s attention, focus, fidgeting, behavior and social skills and critical thinking in school.” So love them babies up!

  • Give opportunities for exploration. As I mentioned in the video, movement is a CRUCIAL part of learning for young children. Giving them space and opportunities to safely explore is a brain super charger.

  • A healthy diet is a crucial part of brain development. We are what we eat and given that one of the most important periods of brain growth occurs under the age of three, getting kids the appropriate nutrients is crucial. Nutrition is an important topic in early childhood that I will touch on several times in the future.

  • Limits with love. Obviously, we need to give young children boundaries to keep them safe. Giving them those boundaries in a firm, but loving way allows them experience frustration and recovery. This is a key component in developing emotional regulation skills and healthy stress responses. Feeling safe and emotionally supported after these big emotions provide a strong foundation to being able to handle stress effectively as an adult. Who doesn’t want that for their kids?!

I hope this overview has provided you with some insight into the importance of understanding brain development in young children. If you have any questions about this information, please drop it in the comments.

Brain Development 101