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Quality Early Care & Learning
The experiences young children receive in the first three years of life are
crucial to brain development. As your
child receives loving care and stimulation, neural connections are formed
between his brain cells. These connections form the wiring system of the brain.
Your child's early experiences largely determine the strength
and function of her brain's wiring system. Warm responsive parents, who cuddle
and talk to their children and provide
challenging learning experiences, promote healthy brain development for their
New technology allows the thorough study of
the brain, like we've never seen before. These studies prove
that a child's early development is determined by his daily environment and
experiences, rather than genetics alone. Researchers now believe it is the
plasticity of the brain, its ability to develop and change in response to the
demands of the environment, that enables a child to learn to use computers,
solve mathematical problems and learn foreign languages. In order to fully
understand this information, we must first understand how a child's brain works
||MAKING CONNECTIONS A child is born
with over 100 billion neurons or brain cells. That's enough neurons to last a
lifetime, since no more neurons will develop after birth. These neurons form
connections, called synapses, which make up the wiring of the brain. (Don't
worry, these terms are defined later)
||EARLY EXPERIENCES At age eight
months an infant may have 1,000 trillion synapses. However, by age 10 the
number of synapses decrease to about 500 trillion. The final number of
synapses is largely determined by a child's early experiences, which can
increase or decrease the number of synapses by as much as 25 percent.
||"USE IT OR LOSE IT!" The brain
operates on a "use it or lose it" principle: only those connections and
pathways that are frequently activated are retained. Other connections that
are not consistently used will be pruned or discarded so the active
connections can become stronger.
||DEFINING LANGUAGE SKILLS When an
infant is three months old, his brain can distinguish several hundred
different spoken sounds. Over the next several months, his brain will organize
itself more efficiently so that it only recognizes those sounds that are part
of the language he regularly hears.
During early childhood, the brain retains the ability to relearn sounds it has
discarded, so young children typically learn new languages easily and without
||THE POWER OF THE SPOKEN WORD
power of early adult-child interactions is remarkable. Researchers found that
when mothers frequently spoke to their infants, their children learned almost 300
more words by age two than did their peers whose mothers rarely spoke to them.
However, mere exposure to language through television or adult conversation
provided little benefit. Infants need to interact directly with others.
Children need to hear people talk to them about what they are seeing and
experiencing, in order for their brains to fully develop language skills.
||THE LOVING TOUCH Warm, responsive
caregiving not only meets an infant's basic, day-to-day needs for nourishment
and warmth, but also responds to their preferences, moods and rhythms. Recent
research suggests that this kind of consistent caregiving is not only
comforting for an infant, it plays a vital role in healthy development. The
way that parents, families and other caregivers relate and respond to their
young children, and the way they respond to their children's contact with the
environment, directly affect the formation of the brain's neural pathways.
||CREATING ONE STABLE BOND Researchers
who examine the life histories of children who have succeeded despite many
challenges, have consistently found that these children have had at least one
stable, supportive relationship with an adult early in life.
What does this brain research mean?
The implications of this research are far
reaching. It should be used to educate parents and caregivers about the critical
window of opportunity in a child's life that can ensure a child's healthy
Parents play the most important role in
providing the nurturing and stimulation that children require, but many parents
need information and support to develop good parenting skills. There is much
that communities can also do to help families promote their child's healthy
brain development, through programs like Parents As Teachers.
PARENT EDUCATION Parents must be
educated about the importance of proper early experiences. The little things
that parents do, like talking to an infant, reading to him at an early age and
helping him play simple games, have many lasting effects.
CHILD ABUSE AND NEGLECT PREVENTION It
is important, as always, to stress the prevention of child abuse and neglect
during the developmental years. Greater attention must be given to
preventing maltreatment before it starts. High-quality home visitation programs
which start working with families as soon as the child is born have proven to be
effective in preventing abuse and neglect. These programs help parents manage
the stresses of raising children and prevent unhealthy patterns from developing.
PROPER PRENATAL CARE Many studies have
shown the devastating effects on intelligence and brain development from a lack
of basic nutrients at the prenatal stage, in infancy and early childhood.
Educational and outreach campaigns to alert women to the importance of nutrition
during pregnancy would also be helpful in preventing problems that can arise in
this critical period when brain cells begin to form.
CHILD CARE PROVIDER EDUCATION
Consistent, healthy care from child care providers is another factor affecting
proper brain development. An increasing number of infants and toddlers are
spending most of their day in child care arrangements so parents can work. This
relationship is one of the most important a child will ever form. However, too
often child care providers are poorly trained, underpaid, and do not provide
children with appropriate stimulation. Research has shown that in the majority
of infant care arrangements in the U.S., children are not talked to and played
with enough, and they do not have the opportunity to form the kind of
comfortable, secure relationships with a caregiver that will promote their
healthy emotional development. Programs like T.E.A.C.H. can assist in educating
child care providers.
CHOOSING QUALITY CHILD CARE Parents
should be given information about how to choose high quality child care for
their children, as is available from many child care resource and referral
offices around North Carolina. In addition, special attention must be given to
the development and enforcement of child care licensing standards that promote
Our increasingly technically and socially
complex society cannot afford to continue to allow large numbers of children to
miss out on the positive experiences they need in infancy and early childhood;
the costs in terms of lost intellectual potential and increased rates of
emotional and behavioral problems, are too high. The new developments in brain
research show us what children need; our challenge is to ensure that every child
effect of abuse and neglect on brain development
At the CIVITAS Child Trauma Programs at Baylor
College of Medicine, Bruce Perry and co-workers have studied the impact of
neglect and trauma on the neurobiology of over 1,000 abused and neglected
children. In one study, 20 children who had been raised in globally
under-stimulating environments- children who were rarely touched or spoken to
and who had little opportunity to explore and experiment with toys- were
examined with sophisticated new brain-imaging techniques and other measures of
brain growth. The children were found to have brains that were physically 20 to
30 percent smaller than most children their age and, in over half the cases,
parts of the children's brains appeared to have literally wasted away. ---
Starting Smart: How early experiences affect brain development, An Ounce of
Prevention Fund, 1996.
development makes economic sense
To invest early in a child's life to build a
good foundation for learning and emotional development can save taxpayers a
tremendous amount of money. Here are a few examples:
Risk vs. Opportunity-
Family Planning- Save $4.40 for every $1
Quality Preschool- Save $7.16 for every $1
Home Visits- Save $5.63 for every $1
School-Based Clinics- Save $7 for every $1
Get businesses involved -
increase the productivity of any business, employees need to be assured the
care their child is receiving is adequate, reliable and of high quality. To
have a well-qualified workforce tomorrow, we must start with nurturing today's
Information for this report was obtained
from the Families & Work Institute, An Ounce of Prevention Fund, Dr. Dorothy
Routh of Florida State University, and the national I Am Your Child campaign.
JumpStart gratefully acknowledges the
North Carolina Partnership for Children - Smart Start for granting us
permission to use information from their website for this page and much more information!
To learn more about early brain
development, JumpStart recommends:
Mind in the Making website
Helping Babies Grow and Develop
To learn what parents can do to shape their
young children's emotional development,
click here for a Newsweek article, "Reading Your Baby's Mind" which
includes developmental milestones.
Visit the other sections of this website
for more information -- and find many additional resources on the "learn
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