What Children Need Most is Adults That Understand Development


orange brainThe brain doesn’t fully develop until about the age of 25. This fact is sometimes quite surprising and eye opening to new parents and early years professionals who are interacting with children every day. It can also be somewhat overwhelming to contemplate. It is essential to realize however, that the greatest time of development occurs in the years prior to kindergarten. And even more critical to understand is that by age three 85 percent of the core structures of the brain are formed.

The wonderful news is, brain research provides information to relieve the minds of caring adults. Neuroscience provides the knowledge of what developing brains need most for learning and well-being in life. And the even better news, it really isn’t complicated.

It Is Just This Simple

The brain grows in sequential fashion, from the least complex functioning area to the most complex. There are three crucial points to make about this fact.

  • Even though the most complex area of the brain is the last to complete development, experiences in the early
  • months and years have a very significant impact.
  • Children need appropriate experiences in the early months and years to wire the brain in preparation for more
  • complex learning.
  • Pushing academics too early and ignoring the incredible impact of nurturing relationships and play can be
  • detrimental.

To develop the higher functioning areas of the brain, secure responsive and predictable caring relationships are crucial. We are biologically designed for relationships. When the brain feels a sense of trust it is then able to relax and is ready to learn. This security is essential to establish right from birth. It contributes to a brain ready for learning, self regulation, resiliency and getting along with others.

Children also must have appropriate and safe opportunities to experience things for themselves and feel the sense of accomplishment that goes along with completing tasks independently. To support this, adults need to allow (not force) enough time for children to try things over and over again at their own pace. Repeated experiences create strong brain connections. This is why children often want the same song or story repeated.

Time for independent trial and error is extremely valuable. Children however, also need someone available to help and encourage them when things get overwhelming or to help them through new situations. Children feel comfortable and develop a continued sense of excitement toward learning when caring adults provide available support and appropriate stimulation.

Due to rapid growth at this time, preschool children’s brains are especially vulnerable to experiences and their environment, and will therefore continually adapt to what they are exposed to. Environments that are chaotic, unpredictable, disorderly or highly stressful have a direct negative influence on the development of the brain.

According to Jane Healy, a well-respected educational psychologist, “Early childhood programs that implement a directed academic curriculum often replace essential, hands-on learning activities with skill-based performance and rote-learning tasks. In doing so, they risk the developmental growth necessary for children’s future academic success.” Experts believe that when rote-learning tasks are used extensively in an early childhood classroom or other setting, normal growth and development of the brain can become distorted.

Early learning environments that are appropriate for a child’s developmental level provide opportunities to learn through movement, play and hands-on exploration. Through this type of learning, children test new knowledge in a relaxed setting and then naturally relate it to existing knowledge and store the new information. Children just naturally want to explore, spin, pretend, run, pour, skip, create, imagine, pound, throw, squish, hop, sing, and figure out the world. They are doing exactly what their growing brain needs. Understanding adults just need to provide pleanty of wonderful opportunities for this to occur, then not get in the way and provide caring support when needed. It really isn’t complicated is it?

Author Deborah McNelis · posted on Categories UncategorizedTags , , , , · 114232 Views


Hi Deborah, I am not sure if this is allowed, but I would love to post a link to this article on my Facebook page as this is exactly why we encourage parents to bring their toddlers to Toddlers’ Workshop. I will, of course, acknowledge you. Please let me know if you will be okay with that. Regards

Hello Lynette!
Thank you for your enthusiasm about this post. Your interest in sharing it is greatly appreciated. Thank you for asking and for including acknowledgement.
If you are interested it can be also found on the “Brain Insights Activity Packets” page on FB. It would be an easy way for you to share the post.
Thanks for all you do to make a positive difference!
Enjoy the day,

Children in the Early Years need play experiences that promote ‘face to face’ communication and collaboration.

It is through fun puzzles, games and differentiated problem solving activities that human beings form secure, happy and confident relationships.

Children’s misunderstandings can be easily identified and rectified when using practical ‘hands-on, barrier free resources. Unlike a screen where ‘thumbs up’ or ‘thumbs down’ tells you nothing at all.

Research has proved again and again that what most young children need and want is more interaction with the people they know and trust.

Making learning interesting,challenging engaging and inspirational at this early stage is the key to progressive lifelong learning.

Enjoyed your article. Thank you.

I’d love to read more research about how, and why playing is that important for children, and that they learn form playing rather than from orders, following directions and “formal education”.
Can you all please share the research? I need them as my colleagues at nursery at toooo much into numbers, phonics and facts rather than allowing children to explore and play.

Thanks a lot!

I completely agree with ‘no forceful learning concept’. Play is the vehicle for learning and the overall development of a child. It is important for an adult to create an enthusiastic & explorative environment for the growing brain to experience and learn.

Glad to know of your agreement on this Anantha. Children just naturally are driven to learn, so your point about setting up an environment that invites and encourages exploration is perfect. Forcing certainly is not necessary is it?

Mayte, it is wonderful that you are so enthused to share information on play. Sorry to hear of the emphasis on phonics and facts at the nursery. I recently posted another blog on the topic of the importance of play. You can read it on this site here: https://www.bamradionetwork.com/edwords-blog/is-play-in-early-education-really-necessary

Additionally here are a few links on research that may be helpful:
This article explains extensively and includes several references:

There is also a great book on play by Stuart Brown. http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/4997659-play

Hopefully you find great benefit from all of this.
Thank you for all you do to contribute to better understanding!

Great article Deborah. As a developmental & behavioral pediatrician, I have seen the fallout of not respecting the developing brain. People ask why we are having such an increase in behaviorally disordered children and the push to academics is part of it Think about if you had to perform an abstract task with no familiarity with the concrete elements of the task? You would likely get anxious and want more time to explore and understand the make up sensory-wise of what is being asked. But there is no time, so you keep hearing, “Just do it.” At some point, sooner or later, you would become totally overwhelmed and meltdown or act out. We need to increase adult awareness of brain development and the dangers of ignoring the natural progression of development. Brain Insights is so important for that.

Patricia McGuire MD FAAP
The Pediatric Profiler

Hello Deborah,

Thanks for the article it really spoke to me and my wife.

We are fortunate enough right now to be at home with our 24-month-old boy and understanding his developmental needs is our top priority.

Being a mature wise parent who respects and communicates with their child to understand their needs is of prime importance. Too many of us are overwhelmed with the stress of life in the society that we live in that we don’t exercise enough patience with our children.

My wife is a stay at home mom which is a full-time job with overtime and I’m lucky enough to work from home running a website teaching people how to start a blog https://thebloggingbuddha.com/

My wife and are also studying the importance of nutrition in early development and are studying the works of Dr. T. Colin Campbell.

Anyway, thanks for the wonderful article and please keep on spreading your message.


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