Brain, the commander-in-chief of our body. The human body cannot function without the brain. Our body may stay alive with the heart being pumped artificially, but it won’t be able to bat an eyelid if the brain stops working. We are all born with a brain that is almost developed. There are many wires and connections within the brain that are connected and functional only during the infancy and toddler stages. Brain development occurs due to the genes and environment of the growing child. The inherited gift (genes) of the child makes the structure of the brain possible, but it is a healthy diet and external stimulation of the surroundings that gets the brain connected in the most efficient way.
The ability of an infant to be able to speak, crawl, cry, laugh, walk, recognize, remember, etc. is nothing short of a miracle. The brain is able to develop due to the interactions and the care provided by the parents. The simple gaze a mother gives her baby while feeding, the lullaby sung by a caring father, etc. form a stepping stone for the early brain development of a child.
Thus, not only the genetics and nourishment play a part in the development of our brain, but the daily interactions, physical activity, love, and daily experiences help brain development in early childhood. The brain develops with the help of the external factors of the surroundings. The five senses of vision, hearing, smell, taste, and touch help in developing an unconnected brain structure. The child learns to recognize the faces of family members, the voice of his/her father, the smell of his/her mother’s skin, the taste of the milk he/she drinks, and the gentle caressing of his/her grandmother. This helps the brain get wired accordingly and have an impact on the basic architecture of his/her brain.
There are over 100,000,000,000 cells in the brain when a child is born. These cells need to start communicating with each other, and during the miraculous changes, the brain follows the Darwinian theory of selection of the fittest. In other words, those synapses and connections that are seldom used by the child are deleted and those that are useful are developed further.
The prime time for the child to learn and understand concepts that will prove helpful throughout life are the early formative years. The brain of a 3 years old is two times more active than an adult. Thus, it is very important to encourage the various interactive activities that will help in brain development. The types of brain development in early childhood are:
• Development of the Visual and Auditory Senses:
The vision and hearing senses are the first to be developed in children. To improve these senses, the parents and guardians should ensure that the child is exposed to different colors, shapes, and sounds. You can hang different, vividly colored and shaped chimes over the child’s cradle that have a visual appeal and a soft rhythmic sound that will help develop the child’s vision and auditory senses.
• Development of Language Skills:
The child begins to gurgle some sounds and moves on to some monosyllables like ma, pa, da-da, etc. The parents should develop these speech skills by talking to the child and encouraging him to speak. Reading poems and singing songs and lullabies help in the process. Although the infant may not understand their meanings, he will be able to grasp the different sounds of the words, registering them in his brain for future reference.
• Development of the Motor Skills:
The child’s brain begins to gain control of the muscles. The child starts moving his arms and legs in all directions playfully and this is a part of his physical exercise and development of motor skills. The child begins to hold fingers and grasp toys, thus helping in the development of the motor skills of the hands, fingers, toes, and feet. The parents should help the child with physical activities that will help in the physical development of the body and the brain.
• Development of the Emotional and Social Quotient:
The healthy, warm, caring, and loving environment the child receives, plays an important role in the development of the child’s emotional and social skills. It is very important for the parents to maintain a healthy environment in the house, as the child is very vulnerable to negative emotions around him. The child develops emotions of hatred, anger, fear, etc. as easily as love, trust, and empathy by learning from his surroundings. Thus, provide the child with ample positive emotions and social skills that will help him adjust into the society easily.
How the Brain Learns
The most common advice new parents are given is to cradle their baby’s head very carefully. This is because the neck muscles cannot support the weight of the head. The brain is already one-fourth the weight of an adult’s and the prenatal phase is when the neurons, axons and synapses form and connect. Let us see how the child goes through the different milestones of growth.
Development in Early 6 Weeks
A newborn is totally dependent on the mother for its basic needs. The first 6 weeks is the time when they learn many things and form a bond with their mother and others. During this time the baby:
• Can See:
Objects that are just 8 to 12 inches away. This means he can see the mother’s face only when she holds him close to her body. Very soon the baby’s vision will improve and you will observe him/her following all your movements. This is the time when the baby enjoys looking at bright, colorful as well as black and white images and objects.
• Can Hear:
Voices and sounds around it. The baby could hear when it was inside the womb of its mother. Thus, the minute it is born, it recognizes its mother’s voice instantly.
• Can Feel:
Touch is one important sensation that babies can understand. It is a way to build trust and a bond with your baby. Give the baby gentle massages, hold him/her close to make him feel loved and secure.
• Can Communicate:
Crying, gurgling, and cooing are all forms of communication for the baby. When the baby feels hungry, tired, sleepy or is in pain, it will cry. When the baby wants talk to you, it will start cooing.
Development in 3 to 6 Months
At this age, the baby turns more social and will start playing simple games with parents. The baby realizes that its actions tend to stimulate its surroundings. Muscle control is better, and thus, the child will try to explore the world around it. During this time, the baby:
• Can See:
As far as 3 feet. It will follow objects across, over or under him/her visually. The baby starts developing depth and distance perception, that is, can understand objects placed far away and near to him/her.
• Can Eat:
This is the best time to introduce him to solid foods after consulting with the doctor. The child should be made to sit upright, before feeding any solid food. These foods should be iron-fortified, single-grained, or baby vegetables.
• Can Move:
The baby starts to roll over, sits up with the help of support, as well as learns to grab things. The baby starts playing with its hands and can reach for his/her toes. It begins to put things in its mouth and learns to explore the toys.
• Can Communicate:
The baby starts producing more sounds, vowels, and starts to squeal. The facial expressions are more pronounced and he may even gurgle when having a conversation. The child develops emotionally, and starts reacting in a different manner when hearing the voice of a familiar person and a stranger.
Development in 1 to 2 Years
This is the phase when the child learns to walk and talk. Thus, the child needs to be supervised at all times during this phase. The toddler during this phase:
• Can Eat:
With the family 3 times a day. The appetite may decrease during this time and the toddler will favor one type of food.
• Can Move:
The toddler learns to walk on its own. He/she will also learn to kick a ball and learn to climb stairs. The baby starts using its finger and learns to hold on to things like a spoon. This is the time when they love to draw and color. Make sure you provide the child toys to stack up–give it rings that fit in one another and simple puzzles to develop fine motor skills.
• Can Communicate:
This is the time when vocabulary increases. The child will use words when he/she recognizes certain objects in books or pictures. The pronunciation may not be correct, but encourage the child to speak more.
These were a few development milestones that occur during the child’s growth phase. Let us now have a look at the milestones that happen within the brain according to the child’s age.
Development in Early Childhood
There are certain milestones that are achieved within the brain according to the age of the child. Let us see the different stages of child development according to age:
Development Milestones of Brain
• Age 4 Months:
The brain starts responding to the different words or sounds produced in any language spoken.
• Age 8 to 9 Months:
The infant’s brain begins to develop memory as he experiences different activities like pushing a ball around or throwing a spoon.
• Age 10 Months:
The child begins to focus on his own new language like ma, pa, da-da, ba-ba, etc. and pays little attention to the other languages spoken around him.
• Age 12 Months:
The child begins to respond to words that are spoken in a child-like funny manner rather than flat, normal voices. For example, when the mother says, ‘shee the moo-moo’ the baby will look towards the cow more often than when he hears, ‘see the cow’. Thus, it is often said that a child should be spoken to in the language that he understands.
• Age 12 to 18 Months:
Babies and toddlers begin to explore their memories. If the child has seen a toy that needs winding, the child will wind it till it finally begins to play.
• Age 24 Months:
Toddlers and preschoolers recognize the people around them and know their friends from strangers. They begin to cry when handled by people who are unknown to them.
• Age 30 Months:
The child begins to develop a kind of map in his or her mind and knows where the things are in his or her surroundings.
• Age 36 Months:
The child begins to show two different emotions at one single time, like falling down while playing and feel like crying, but happy that he is having fun playing in the park.
The child’s mental ability develops with specific types of learning. There are certain critical periods that help him absorb a particular information at a faster rate. For example:
• Emotional Intelligence:
The optimum period for development of the brain is 0 to 24 months and the next best age is 2-5 years. The EQ can further develop at any age.
• Motor Development:
The optimum period is 0 to 24 years and then 2-5 years with the possibility of further development possibility decreasing with age.
The optimum period of vision development is 0 to 2 years and then 2 to 5 years. The vision may remain constant or decrease with age.
4 to 8 months is the optimum period for development of early sounds. Then 8 months to 5 years. The ability to recognize and understand sounds keeps developing with age.
• Ability to Think:
The child begins to think from 0 to 48 months. Then from 4 to 10 years when parents and other adults are bombarded with a million questions. This is the age when the child is actively thinking and questioning the happenings of the surroundings.
• Second Language Skills:
The child can learn and understand a second language other than his mother tongue during 5 to 10 years of age. The child can further learn more language skills at any age.
The best way to influence the brain development is by contributing towards an active interaction with your child. You should, sing, talk, read, and explain simple things to the child to help him develop his brains. The brain of a child is rightly called a plastic mold that can be shaped as the parents mold it. It is like a blank page and how well you write the script of knowledge, grasping power, and emotional expressions on it is up to the parents and caregivers. You should provide ample opportunities to the child to help him develop his brain and flourish accordingly.
A warm home, loving family, and good educational development will ensure a steady brain development in kids. No two children are alike. Thus, some may learn quickly or some may take time. Do not give up on any child, if he does not act according to your expectations. It is not about your wants, but the child’s dreams. Let children learn at their own pace by always being there with a supportive hand. Just as Einstein took time to find his niche, you never know, your child may take time to find his path. Encourage the brain development in early childhood with love and attention.