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Child brain


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Child brain

  1. 1. A FACT SHEET FOR FAMILIES AND PEOPLE WHO WORK WITH FAMILIESBrain Development Bulletin #4356What We Know About understood intuitively that loving, produces trillions more neuronsHow Children Learn everyday interactions — cuddling and “synapses” (connections infants closely or singing to between the brain cells) thanBrain cells are “raw” materials — toddlers — help children learn. needed. During the first years ofmuch like lumber is a raw material A brain is not a computer. life, the brain undergoes a seriesin building a house. Heredity may The brain begins working long of extraordinary changes. Then,determine the basic number of before it is finished. And the through a process that resembles“neurons” (brain nerve cells) same processes that wire the Darwinian competition, the brainchildren are born with, and their brain before birth also drive the eliminates connections that areinitial arrangement, but this is very rapid growth of learning that seldom or never used.just a framework. A child’s occurs immediately after birth. At “Windows of opportunity” areenvironment has enormous impact birth, a baby’s brain contains 100 critical periods in children’s liveson how these cells get connected billion neurons, roughly as many when specific types of learningor “wired” to each other. Many nerve cells as there are stars in the take place. For instance, scientistsparents and caregivers have Milky Way. Before birth, the brain have determined that the neurons for vision begin sending messages back and forth rapidly at 2 to 4 months of age, peaking in intensity at 8 months. It is no coincidence that babies begin to take notice of the world during this period. Scientists believe that language is acquired most easily during the first ten years of life. During these years, the circuits in children’s brains become wired for how their own language sounds. An infant’s repeated exposure to words clearly helps her brain build BRAIN DEVELOPMENT, BULLETIN #4356 1
  2. 2. the neural connections that will speak the language. synapses to grow and existingenable her to learn more words Schools can take advantage of connections to get stronger.later on. For infants, individual this window of opportunity to teach Connections that are used becomeattention and responsive, language. If children are to learn permanent. If a child receivessensitive caregiving are critical to speak a second language like a little stimulation early on, thefor later language and intellectual native, they should be introduced synapses will not develop, and thedevelopment. to the language by age ten. brain will make fewer connections. Research does not suggest Early stimulation sets the stage Recent research on one of thedrilling children in alphabet songs for how children will learn and body’s “stress-sensitive” systemsfrom different languages or using interact with others throughout shows how very stressfulflash cards to promote rote life. A child’s experiences, good or experiences also shape a child’smemorization of letters and bad, influence the wiring of his developing brain. When childrennumbers. Children learn any brain and the connection in his are faced with physical orlanguage best in the context of nervous system. Loving interactions emotional stress or trauma, onemeaningful, day-to-day interactions with caring adults strongly of these systems “turns on” bywith adults or other children who stimulate a child’s brain, causing releasing the hormone cortisol. What’s Happening What You Can Do Window of Learning Connecting Babies can see at birth, clearly and You don’t need to buy fancy or Vision needs to be exercised Vision with discrimination, especially high-contrast black-and-white toys early on for good development. objects (like human faces) eight to stimulate vision. But regular eye Visual acuity develops from birth to 10 inches away. Focusing both exams, starting as early as two to about age 6 or 7; binocular eyes on a single object farther weeks of age, can detect problems vision develops between ages 1 away, the development of depth that, if left uncorrected, can cause and 3. perception and hand-eye a weak or unused eye to lose its coordination all take more time. functional connections to the brain. Brightness and movement are visible at any distance. Connecting Some of the first circuits the brain Provide loving care, which will Emotions develop in layers, Feelings builds are those that govern the give baby’s brain the right kind of each more complex than the emotions. The first two emotions emotional stimulation. Neglecting last. The stress response are opposites: feeling calm and a baby can cause brain-wave develops from birth through age relaxed and feeling distress. patterns that dampen happy 3; empathy and envy begin to Beginning around two months of feelings. Abuse can produce develop during the second year age, these start to evolve into anxiety and abnormal stress through about age 10. more complex feelings. responses. Connecting Before birth, an infant learns the Babies are born interested in Language skills are sharpest Language “melody” of its mothers voice. listening to human voices and the early on but grow throughout During the first six years, its brain tendency to produce babbling life. Recognition of speech will set up the circuitry needed sounds. Talking to a baby, begins at birth through ages 6 or to understand and reproduce especially in the high-pitched, 7; vocabulary starts growing complex language. A six-month- singsong speech style known as during the second year and old can recognize the vowel “Parentese,” speeds up the process continues through adulthood. sounds that are the basic building of learning new words and helps blocks of speech. babies connect objects with words. Connecting At birth, babies move in a jerky, Give babies freedom to explore Motor-skill development starts with Movement uncontrollable way. Over the next within safe limits. Reaching for the larger muscles (like the neck, four years, the brain will refine objects helps the brain develop arms and legs) and moves to the circuits needed for reaching, hand-eye coordination and helps increasingly smaller muscles (like grabbing, sitting, crawling, muscles learn patterns of actions. fingers and toes). Basic motor skills walking, running and jumping. As soon as your child is ready for start developing shortly after birth; them, activities like drawing and fine motor ability begins developing playing a violin or piano will help in the second half of the first year. develop fine motor skills. Musical fingering ability opens up about age 5.2 FAMILY ISSUES FACTS
  3. 3. High levels of cortisol can cause Too much cortisol in the brain in other words, really do producebrain cells to die and reduces the can make it hard for children to rich brains.connections between the cells in learn and to think. And they may Sources:certain areas of the brain. have trouble acting appropriately Nash J. M. “Fertile Minds.” Time, Babies with strong, positive in stressful situations. February 3, 1997, pp. 48-51.emotional bonds to their caregivers Healthy relationships during Newberger, J. J. (1997). “New Brainshow consistently lower levels of the early years help children have Development Research: A Wonderfulcortisol in their brains. While healthy relationships throughout Window of Opportunity to Build Public Support for Early Childhood Education.”positive experiences can help life. Deprived of a positive, Young Children 52 (4), pp. 4-7.brighten a child’s future, negative stimulating environment, a child’sexperiences can do the opposite. brain suffers. Rich experiences,The Brain in Brief Brain Cell Cell bodyBrain StructureThe brain is part of the central nervous neurons. The nerve cells proliferatesystem, and plays a decisive role in before birth. In fact, a fetus’ braincontrolling many bodily functions, produces roughly twice as manyincluding both voluntary activities neurons as it will eventually need — Axon(such as walking or speaking) and a safety margin that gives newbornsinvoluntary ones (such as breathing the best possible chance of comingor blinking). into the world with healthy brains. The brain has two hemispheres, Most of the excess neurons are shed Dendritesand each hemisphere has four lobes. in utero. At birth, an infant hasEach of these lobes has numerous roughly 100 billion brain cells.folds. These folds do not all mature Every neuron has an axonat the same time. The chemicals that (usually only one). The axon is an experiences the surrounding worldfoster brain development are released “output” fiber that sends impulses to and forms attachments to parents,in waves; as a result, different areas other neurons. Each neuron also has family members and other caregivers.of the brain evolve in a predictable many dendrites — short, hair-like In the first decade of life, a child’ssequence. The timing of these develop- “input” fibers that receive impulses brain forms trillions of connections ormental changes explains, in part, from other neurons. In this way, synapses. Axons hook up withwhy there are “prime times” for certain neurons are perfectly constructed to dendrites, and chemicals calledkinds of learning and development. form connections. neurotransmitters facilitate the passage Different parts of the brain control As a child grows, the number of of impulses across the resultingdifferent kinds of functions. Most of the neurons remains relatively stable, but synapses. Each individual neuronactivities that we think of as “brain each cell grows, becoming bigger and may be connected to as many aswork,” like thinking, planning or heavier. The proliferation of dendrites 15,000 other neurons, forming aremembering, are handled by the accounts for some of this growth. network of neural pathways that iscerebral cortex, the uppermost, ridged The dendrites branch out, forming immensely complex. This elaborateportion of the brain. Other parts of “dendrite trees” that can receive network is sometimes referred to asthe brain also play a role in memory signals from many other neurons. the brain’s “wiring” or “circuitry.” Ifand learning, including the thalamus, they are not used repeatedly, orhippocampus, amygdala and basal Connections among often enough, they are eliminated. Inforebrain. The hypothalamus and Brain Cells this way, experience plays a crucialamygdala, as well as other parts of the At birth, the human brain is in a role in “wiring” a young child’s brain.brain, are also important in reacting remarkably unfinished state. Most ofto stress and controlling emotions. Source: Shore, R. (1997). Rethinking the its 100 billion neurons are not yet Brain: New Insights into Early Development.Brain Cells connected in networks. Forming and New York, NY: Families and Work Institute, pp. 16-17. reinforcing these connections are theThe basic building blocks of the brain key tasks of early brain development.are specialized nerve cells that make Connections among neurons areup the central nervous system: formed as the growing child BRAIN DEVELOPMENT, BULLETIN #4356 3
  4. 4. Day-to-Day Care of Young For more information on family issues, Children’s Brains contact your county Research on early brain development and school readiness suggests the Extension office or the following guidelines for the care of young children: University of Maine Ensure health, safety, and good nutrition: Seek regular prenatal care; breast Cooperative Extension feed if possible; make sure your child has regular check-ups and timely immunizations; safety-proof the places where children play; and use a car family living office, seat whenever your child is traveling in a car. 5717 Corbett Hall, Develop a warm, caring relationship with children: Show them that you care deeply about them. Express joy in who they are. Help them to feel safe Orono, ME 04469-5717 and secure. (207) 581-3448/3104 Respond to children’s cues and clues: Notice their rhythms and moods, or 1-800-287-0274. even in the first days and weeks of life. Respond to children when they are upset as well as when they are happy. Try to understand what children are feeling, what they are telling you (in words or actions), and what they are trying to do. Hold and touch them; play with them in a way that lets you follow their lead. Move in when children want to play, and pull back when they seem Prepared by Judith Graham, to have had enough stimulation. Extension human development Recognize that each child is unique: Keep in mind that from birth, children specialist. have different temperaments, that they grow at their own pace, and that this pace varies from child to child. At the same time, have positive expectations about what children can do and hold on to the belief that every child can succeed. Talk, read, and sing to children: Surround them with language. Maintain an ongoing conversation with them about what you and they are doing. Sing to them, play music, tell stories and read books. Ask toddlers and preschoolers to guess what will come next in a story. Play word games. Ask toddlers and preschoolers questions that require more than a yes or no answer, like “What do you think...?” Ask children to picture things that have happened in the past or might happen in the future. Provide reading and writing materials, including crayons and paper, books, magazines, and toys. These are key pre-reading experiences. Encourage safe exploration and play: Give children opportunities to move around, explore and play (and be prepared to step in if they are at risk of hurting themselves or others). Allow them to explore relationships as well. Arrange for children to spend time with children of their own age and of other ages. Help them learn to solve the conflicts that inevitably arise. Use discipline to teach: Talk to children about what they seem to be feeling and teach them words to describe those feelings. Make it clear that while you might not like the way they are behaving, you love them. Explain the rules and consequences of behavior so children can learn the “why’s” behind what you are asking them to do. Tell them what you want them to do, not just what you don’t want them to do. Point out how their behavior affects others. Establish routines: Create routines and rituals for special times during the day like mealtime, nap time, and bedtime. Try to be predictable so the children know that they can count on you. Become involved in child care and preschool: Keep in close touch with your children’s child care providers or teachers about what they are doing. A Member of the Occasionally, especially during transitions, spend time with your children while University of Maine System. they are being cared for by others. Limit television: Limit the time children spend watching TV shows and videos as well as the type of shows they watch. Make sure that they are Published and distributed in furtherance of Acts watching programs that will teach them things you want them to learn. of Congress of May 8 and June 30, 1914, by the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, Take care of yourself: You can best care for young children when you are the Land Grant University of the state of Maine cared for as well. and the U.S. Department of Agriculture cooperating. Cooperative Extension and other Source: Shore, R. (1997). Rethinking the Brain: New Insights into Early Development. New agencies of the U.S.D.A. provide equal York, NY: Families and Work Institute, pp. 26-27. opportunities in programs and employment. 1/014 FAMILY ISSUES FACTS