The 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
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?