Brain Development – The Early Years

The brain guides growth and development. By understanding how the brain works, you can help children develop and grow.

A child’s brain develops through relationships and interactions with parents and other people. Look for everyday ideas of things you can do to help.

Brain development begins during pregnancy and continues into adult years. Babies are already learning even before they are born. At birth, the brain is about one-quarter the size of an adult’s and is made up of billions of neurons. A newborn’s brain is like a house that has just been built. The walls and doors are up, but the wiring isn’t all in place. There are still a lot of changes to come.

Building the brain is like building a house

In a house…

  • The structure is built starting on the ground.
  • The base or foundation is set, the walls are built and the electrical system is wired—all in an exact order.
  • The electrical wiring allows all parts of the house to work together.
  • A strong foundation supports everything that is built on top of it.

In the brain…

  • The brain’s basic structure forms during pregnancy.
  • The ‘wiring’ of the brain starts as the brain’s neurons begin to connect with each other.
  • Connections in the brain continue to develop through an ongoing process until the early adult years.
  • These connections are how the brain communicates. Communication happens between neurons in the brain, and between the brain and the rest of the nervous system.
  • Early brain development lays the foundation for future learning, behaviour and health.

Things to know about your child’s developing brain

  • Brain structure and early brain cell connections are affected by:
    • what your child is born with—inherited traits and abilities (nature)
    • what your child experiences, the care he receives and the relationships he has with other people (nurture)
  • The most important time for brain development is during pregnancy and the early years. This is when the foundation is set for future learning, behaviour and health.
  • Brain cells form connections with each other so signals can pass from one part of the brain to another. These processes make it possible for children to grow, think and learn.
  • Simple connections form first. They are the base for more complex pathways that come later. This pattern continues for many years.
  • Brain cell connections are created through everyday experiences, interactions and the things that children see, hear, touch, taste and smell.
  • The more often the experience happens, whether positive or negative, the stronger that brain connection becomes.

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