The Science Of Early Learning: Your Child's Brain Growth From Ages Five To Eight

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With advances in technology and neurosciences, we can now see inside the human brain and understand a great deal about how the Central Nervous System (CNS) develops. The CNS comprises the brain and the spinal cord (1 ). From age five onwards, a child’s brain develops rapidly — more than any other stage in their life (2). The child’s experiences in the first few years of life — whether positive or negative, will shape the way their brains are architectured. Though your child may not remember this time of their life entirely, it does pave the way for their achievements as adults (3).

Scientists have found that early brain development has a lifelong impact on a child’s learning capacity and can influence success later in life (4). So, since the brain’s physical structure is dependent on the experiences your baby shares with you and those around them, the environment your baby grows up in is critical to their growth and development (3). Therefore, what and how your child learns as a kid builds the foundation for years to come. If you’re wondering how that is possible, here are a few things you should know to understand how your child’s brain learns and develops:

How Does Brain Development Begin In The First Five Years Of Life?

How Does Brain Development Begin In The First Five Years Of Life

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When thinking about a baby’s brain function, it’s essential to understand what brain neuroplasticity means. The brain is changing at every stage of life. At birth, it is just a quarter of the adult brain size. By age two, it reaches three-fourths of the adult size, and by the time a child is five years old, the brain is close to adult structure and volume (5). More than one million synapses (the gap between two nerve cells through which electrical signals pass between two neurons) are formed every second in a child’s brain. These synapses form the basis of all the thoughts, memories, feelings, and movements a person will experience in their lifetime (6).

Studies have shown that a young infant has greater neuroplasticity (the ability of the brain to mold itself based on environmental inputs) than older children (7). However, this fact doesn’t translate to your child knowing everything an adult does when they reach kindergarten. All the learning and development happening in your child’s brain is controlled by its neuroplasticity. It is how the brain reorganizes itself by forming new pathways throughout life. So, as we go through various experiences, our brain’s makeup changes. But it is synonymous with the evolution of brain structures involved in critical everyday functions like learning and memory, which is the best predictor of later accomplishments (6).

The brain’s exposure to external stimuli, diet, hormones, and even stress can significantly impact its architecture (8). The shaping and molding of the brain are powered by learning and memory. So, as we gain new information and experiences, our brain organizes and reorganizes its wiring. Therefore, it is incredibly vital for parents to create rich and positive learning experiences for the proper brain development of children.

What’s The Best Way To Promote Healthy Brain Development In Your Baby?

What's The Best Way To Promote Healthy Brain Development In Your Baby

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For its survival, the brain forms millions and trillions of connections! (9). Certain connections are used again and again, while those that remain unused are discarded. This is called Neural Pruning, which means that if the brain isn’t exposed to repeatedly using specific learnings or memories, those critical synapses wither away. The brain is no longer capable of making connections or recollecting the learned experience easily. For example, when your child is not exposed to a language regularly, chances are they could struggle to communicate easily in that language or forget parts of it. The theory of neural pruning explains why it is vital for a young child to undergo routine and repetition (10), (11).

Early years continue to be a busy time where your child’s neurons are buzzing. So, this is an excellent time for them to learn a host of things — not only academics but also complex scientific terms, playing sports, or games with critical directions, working on electronic gadgets and even picking up a few languages (7). Children need a diverse menu of virtual and real-life experiences that let their minds wander to develop their creativity and enjoy a healthy and enriching life.

The kind of synapses formed between the cells is not identical, even for twins (12). But since your baby’s early years are crafted by their environment, a secure and predictable environment is essential. Here are a few ways in which you can encourage and set the stage for your child’s brain development:

  • Play games, paint, sing, and dance to foster your child’s imagination and actively engage with them daily (13).
  • Talk to your child with empathy, hold and cuddle them to support them, help them communicate their emotions, and relieve them of any stress (14), (15).
  • Read out stories to them to nurture their language and communication skills.

In today’s world it has become convenient to get hold of the best products and platforms that can help you impact early brain development in your child. Be it digital content, toys, or any other thing, you can do a quick research online and then just order the tool. However, parents would need to be actively involved in their child’s development and not just buy them whatever they have a demand for.

For raising a well-rounded and happy kid, parents should take care of their cognitive, physical, social, and emotional well-being. According to world estimates, ninety-three million children (fourteen years old and younger) experience developmental delays or disabilities (16). So, when starved of crucial brain development inputs in the early years, children are likely to experience stunted growth which hinders their ability to reach their highest potential. Can you think of other ways to stimulate your child’s brain development? Do let us know in the comments below!

References:

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  1. Central Nervous System
    https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/neuroscience/central-nervous-system#:~:text=The%20central%20nervous%20system%20%28CNS%29%2C%20comprising%20the%20brain%2C
  2. Stages in human brain development
    https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/0165380686901392
  3. Enrich the environment to empower the brain
    https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0166223609000265#:~:text=%20Enrich%20the%20environment%20to%20empower%20the%20brain
  4. Early Language Learning and Literacy: Neuroscience Implications for Education
    https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1751-228X.2011.01121.x
  5. The Basics of Brain Development
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2989000/
  6. Brain Development and the Role of Experience in the Early Years
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3722610/
  7. School readiness and later achievement
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18020822/
  8. Brain Plasticity and Behaviour in the Developing Brain
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3222570/
  9. Brain Basics: The Life and Death of a Neuron
    https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/Patient-Caregiver-Education/Life-and-Death-Neuron
  10. Rebuilding the brain with psychotherapy
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5806319/
  11. Core Concept: How synaptic pruning shapes neural wiring during development and, possibly, in disease
    https://www.pnas.org/content/117/28/16096
  12. Twin-Singleton Differences in Neonatal Brain Structure
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3145253/
  13. The Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Child Development and Maintaining Strong Parent-Child Bonds
    https://publications.aap.org/pediatrics/article/119/1/182/70699/The-Importance-of-Play-in-Promoting-Healthy-Child?autologincheck=redirected
  14. The communication of emotion visa touch
    https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2009-11528-017
  15. Touch May Alleviate Existential Fears for People With Low Self-Esteem
    https://www.psychologicalscience.org/news/releases/touch-may-alleviate-existential-fears-for-people-with-low-self-esteem.html
  16. Health and child development
    https://www.unicef.org/health/health-and-child-development
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