Are you also quite fascinated when Professor of Neuropsychology Erik Scherder talks on telivision about the brain? Brain development is extremely complex, but therefore also very interesting. In this blog we’ll delve into the world of brain development. What do babies need for proper brain development?
Knowledge about the brain has developed considerably in recent years. It was, for instance, only in 1998 that it was discovered that movement contributes to the production and renewal of brain cells. We now know a lot more about how the brain works and we make good use of this in our approach to young children.
Development begins in the third week after fertilisation of the egg cell and continues until late adolescence. Some scientists even claim that this development continues throughout our lives. At birth, a child has around one hundred billion brain cells, which is comparable to the number of brain cells in an adult. That may seem very important, but the number of connections between those brain cells is actually much more interesting than the number of brain cells.
During pregnancy, brain cells connect with each other. As many as 80% of the connections occur after birth. Far more brain connections are made in the first few years than a child needs. Connections that are filled with experience continue to exist, unused connections disappear again. An often used connection is faster and stronger. As a result, information reaches its destination faster, so practice really makes perfect. The more often you do something, the easier and sometimes more automatically you do this. This is how young children learn to walk. As an adult, you usually don't have to put much effort into this anymore.
In order to make the brain connections, experiences from outside are needed. We also call these experiences stimuli, which are actually everything babies experience with their senses. Babies look around and see all kind of things. When babies move a rattle with their hand back and forth, they experience making a sound with the rattle. All kinds of sounds in the house are valuable experiences for babies. When the door opens, they learn that someone is coming in afterwards. Smells, tastes and touches are also stimuli that strengthen the brain connections.
The brain always needs outside help for their experiences and grows fastest in the first year of life. It’s therefore important to playfully guide babies to increase their skills. Besides, the brain has learning sensitive periods. Different areas of development have their own period in which the child is ready to gain new experiences. Language development, for example, requires a linguistic environment, otherwise it will not develop. But also later in a child's life, brain areas develop through personal experiences, including practising a sport or playing a musical instrument.
In short, brain development is a complex matter, but it does enable us to help children to develop and grow in a very focused way. We use this knowledge in our practice with young children.