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Foundation for life: The infant toddler brain

In early childhood, brain development occurs more rapidly than during any other stage of human life. In fact, 80 percent of brain growth occurs between ages 0-3. What happens during this time, and especially in that first year, helps determine a child’s lifelong health and well-being.

As researchers at Zero to Three: National Center for Infants, Toddlers, and Families explain, “Brain development is ‘activity-dependent’…the electrical activity in every circuit — sensory, motor, emotional, cognitive— shapes the way that circuit gets put together.” Our brain circuits aren’t static, so “every experience excites neural circuits and leaves others inactive.”

Remember peek-a-boo? Trust us, you couldn’t get enough of it as a child. It was just you and your mom, searching for her face. Oh wait, there it is, behind her hands. Hilarious. Babies’ brains soak in so much from this incredibly simple game. Memory, abstract thinking, object permanence. All delivered by the most advanced, breakthrough teaching aid your child will ever have. You.

Healthy development happens in the home and in the community, through relationships with families, friends, and neighbors, who can all play a role in supporting a strong start.

Components of healthy development include attentive, loving relationships, developmentally appropriate activities, and safe, stable environments. Components of unhealthy development include limited positive relationships, violence, inadequate housing and poverty.

Brain development thrives on verbalization, socialization and play. Here are tips for parents:

  • Parents and caregivers are really important in promoting their child’s development, academic and lifelong success. In the first year it is really important to devote time and energy to intentional engagement. Turn of the cell phone and TV and engage by looking and talking.
  • Engagement doesn’t have to be just the parent. Involve other caregivers and grandparents.
  • The words a parent or caregiver speaks, reads or sings with a child, as well as the relationship that develops during this back-and-forth communication, contribute heavily to the child’s language/communication and early brain development.

Want to learn more? Here are additional resources:
Children’s Minnesota early childhood advocacy
Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University
Talking is Teaching

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Julie Franz