Updated: Mar 6, 2020
At birth, your baby's brain is a quarter of the size of a fully developed adult brain. The areas of the newborn's brain that are responsible for breathing, sensing your loving touch, and hearing are ready to go. But your baby can't make much sense of what is happening. You are critical to your baby's understanding of the world and development.Luckily, what the baby brain needs to transform is built into your relationship. Cooing, soothing, smiling, singing, and even changing a diaper, are the building blocks for growth.
Interestingly, the brain is the only organ in the body that develops over time. The brain is in the process of construction, kind of like building a house. At birth, the basic blueprint is in place with the location of the studs, walls, and plumbing. But the details have yet to be figured out. The arrangement of the rooms and paint colors on the walls are, however, to be determined. These decisions, or neuronal-pathways, depend on experience. Experts say the brain is experience-dependent.
By contrast, think of the heart. Its primary purpose is the same day after day. But this is not the case for the brain. At birth, some brain cells are present, but not yet connected. Through experience, brain cells are organized and put to use. The brain keeps producing neurons until at least age 13 and maybe throughout the lifespan. The links or synapses between cells are happening full-speed until around 25-years-of-age. These connections, particularly in the prefrontal cortex, are responsible for our abilities for complex connections.
The cool thing about this slow approach to building the brain is that your child's brain is responding to you. Everyday happenings inform development. Singing, playing, and cuddling are the main ingredients. Through experience with caring adults, the brain cells are organized and put to use. Researchers, such as those working with the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard, call this process “serve and return.”
The more connections, the smoother the brain operates. For example, compare the jerky arm movements of a newborn, to a toddler's ability to hold a crayon. Lots of practice reaching for a toy, and learning to move the rattle to the mouth help the brain build smoother and efficient neural pathways.
It is the job of a consistent and sensitive circle of adults — mom, dad, grandma, teacher — to The daily experiences in your family, culture, and the toddler's environment help the baby’s brain to determine which pathways are most important. The brain is soaking in information while the baby is waiting for a bottle, reading a book, and playing peek-a-boo. Brain cells are just waiting to be connected with other brain cells, to be organized and put to use.
Language development is one of the thousands of examples of how brain development is experience-dependent. A baby's brain is primed to speak any language of our world. As a newborn, your child is most interested in the sounds heard in the womb. By ten months of age, your child babbles with the tones of the home language. Children who hear more than one language develop more pathways and connections.
For efficiency, the brain pays attention to what is familiar and repeated. In this way, the brain strengthens language pathways — wiring for unheard sounds wither. As adults, we may have difficulty speaking an unfamiliar language because the neural connections for hearing and reproducing the sounds of the new language don't exist.
The first few years of development are critical in braining development. Compared with the newborn brain, the toddler's brain has made a hundred trillion connections. It weighs three-quarters of the adult brain. Obviously, your baby can't yet compute an algebraic equation, but the learning is equally as impressive. Early experiences build the scaffolding for later achievements.
The toddler's brain wants to check out all of the possibilities. Every experience is new. It is kind of like putting up 20 different paint samples on the wall before deciding which is best. The brain cells are learning through countless times of dipping the brush in the paint and putting it on the wall, floor, and on the fingers. Curiosity and repeating activities support faster connections and a sturdier foundation for learning. So, when you are wondering, why is my child doing this over and over again? It is the brain strengthening connections and deciding what is most important to know!