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How Does Your Child’s Brain Learn?

Healthy development of a child's brain is built on the small moments that children experience when parents and caregivers interact with them. A number of factors influence early brain development and these important factors include genetics, food and nutrition, responsiveness of parents, daily experiences, physical activity and love. 

In the past, some scientists thought the brain's development was determined genetically and brain growth followed a biologically predetermined path. Now, we know that early experiences impact the development of the brain and influence the specific way in which the circuits (or pathways) of the brain become "wired." A baby's brain is a work in progress. The outside world shapes its development through experiences that a child's senses — vision, hearing, smell, touch and taste — absorb.

Imagine that a child's brain is like a house that has just been built. The walls are up, the doors are hung. Then, you go to the store and buy electrical wiring, switches, a fuse box and other electrical supplies. You bring these supplies to the new house and set them on the floor. Will they work? Probably not. You first must string the wiring and hook up all of the connections. This is quite similar to the way our brains are formed. We are born with as many nerve cells as stars in the Milky Way galaxy. But these cells have not yet established a pattern of wiring between them because they haven't made their connections. 

For example, if a parent repeatedly calls a child a certain name, then connections will form that allow the child to recognize that name over time as referring to him and he will learn to respond. From birth, the brain rapidly is creating these connections that form our habits, thoughts, consciousness, memories and mind. When a connection is used repeatedly in the early years, it becomes permanent. For example, when adults repeat words and phrases as they talk to babies, babies learn to understand speech and strengthen the language connections in the brain. 

Brain development proceeds in waves, with different parts of the brain becoming active "construction sites" at different times. The brain's ability to respond to experience presents exciting opportunities for a child's development. Learning continues throughout life. However, "prime times" or "windows of opportunity" exist when the brain is a kind of "supersponge," absorbing new information more easily than at other times and developing in major leaps. While this is true especially in the first three years of life, it continues throughout early childhood and adolescence. While learning later is possible, it usually is slower and more difficult. The prime times for various learning experiences are:

  • The "prime time" for a child's capacity for learning to see and hear is from birth to between 4 and 5 years old.
  • The "prime time" for language development and learning to talk is from birth to 10 years of age.
  • The "prime time" for physical and motor development in children is from birth to 12 years of age.
  • The "prime time" for emotional and social development in children is birth to 12 years of age.

The development of a child's brain holds the key to the child's future. Although the "first years last forever" in terms of the rapid development of young children's brains, the actual first years of a child's life go by very quickly. We encourage families to touch, talk, read, smile, sing, count and play with your children. It does more than make both of you feel good. It helps a child's brain develop and nourishes the child's potential for a lifetime.


You can use inexpensive items, or even things you have around the house, to provide many learning opportunities for your children in the video above.



Learn how you can make a difference in your child's brain development trhoguh everyday activities. (click on "open in new window")