Neurological research has been greatly advanced by the use of technology and tools such as Magnetic Resonance Image Scanning (MRI), which has been able to demonstrate how brain activity develops with age.
Children’s brains have been shown to be far more active that adult brains. In fact, a child’s brain (aged 3) presents two and a half times more activity than an adult’s brain. Between birth and 2 years of age the brain forms more than a hundred trillion connections in the brain, which record any experience and learning opportunity. A child will reach a few very important milestones in this period of time. How the brain is wired will define the child’s future behaviour and potential.
If, for example, a child receives very little learning input and affection, the chances of normal development are greatly hindered. The example of orphans in Romania left all day in a cot without any stimulation comes to mind. Many of those children grow to display grave developmental delays, which ultimately become permanent due to consistent neglect.
This is what you need to know about your child’s brain:
It goes without saying that a setting that offers an interesting environment rich with play opportunities will support plasticity. So called ‘enabling environments’ actively support learning. You may say the environment itself is like a teacher!
Plasticity, or neuroplasticity, is how the brain organises experiences in the neurological pathways. General changes happen to the neural connections of the brain following a new experience or a learning experience. For this to happen a substance called ‘myelin’ has to be in place so that the electrical transmission can physically happen. ‘Myelination’ first starts with areas of the brain that relate to sensory input, then gradually extends to other areas.
A child’s brain is well developed in certain areas, but needs to be ‘wired’ in others, such as the limbic system and the cerebral cortex. The limbic system relates to a number of functions: olfactory, behaviour, emotion, long term memory, motivation. The cerebral cortex connects to the motor centres in the brain.
An evolutionary explanation for the need to wire these centres anew is that the brain needs to be ‘programmed’ according to the emotional and physical environment the individual is born into, which is unique to the individual. The ‘wiring’ will guarantee that the individual is then perfectly adapted to whatever the environment presents, thus guaranteeing survival.
- BALANCE BETWEEN STIMULATION AND REST
Children need stimulation, but also sleep and rest to recover from intense brain activity and to give a chance to the brain and system to organise information and heal. Don’t over work your baby: without rest the brain can’t learn effectively. Always make sure your child has quieter times following an intense learning activity.
- EMOTIONALLY SECURE RELATIONSHIPS
An environment that offers emotionally secure relationships will make children feel safe and able to explore. They need to be supported in taking risks and emotionally through a secure attachment. There is a direct link between emotional well-being and the ability to retain in formation: it’s a bit like a pyramid of needs. If your baby’s need to safety is met, then new learning and new experience can happen. If the baby is in constant ‘worry mode’ because they feel insecure and they must be on ‘alert’, s/he can’t relax enough to be able to explore.
- WINDOWS OF OPPORTUNITY
Being aware of windows of opportunity and when they occur will be a great help in planning and offering activities that are relevant to your child and offer the highest potential for development. Young children in particular need sensory activities to develop new neurological pathways. Knowing about different learning styles can help in planning and offering activities that stimulate all kinds of learning.
There are times when the brain is more receptive to developmental opportunities: these time frames are called ‘windows of opportunity’. For example the window of opportunity for language acquisition starts to shut down at age 5. If the child has not been exposed to language at all before the age of 5 s/he may never learn to speak.
For emotions, the stress response develops immediately at birth through to 3 years of age. Empathy and envy begin to develop at about 2 years of age to 10 years old.
Cognitive ability’s window of opportunity is from birth to 16 months. Gross motor skills start developing at birth, then fine motor skills at about 1 year and a half.
Musical fingering ability develops at about 5 years of age.
Visual acuity develops from birth to 6/7 years of age and binocular vision from 1 to 3 years of age.
- ADAPT TO YOUR CHILD’S LEARNING STYLE
Dr Howard Gardner’s multiple intelligences theory about different styles of learning is relevant to how genetic inheritance and innate elements play into the process of learning and wiring the brain. According to this theory there are eight different types of intelligences with different problem-solving approaches:
- musical – thinking in patterns, rhythm and sounds
- linguistic – verbal ability rather than pictures and symbols
- logical-mathematical – working with numbers and mathematical concept, reason, logic
- visual-spacial – ability to think in pictures and create images in the mind
- bodily-kinesthetic – expression through movement, learning through sensory experience
- interpersonal – ability to read body language, empathise, relate/communicate with others
- naturalistic – relating information and learning to one’s environment
While it’s true that an individual may have natural inclinations, it’s also true that learning styles are not so well defined. There are often 2-3 predominant elements and then secondary elements. It’s a useful classification to bear in mind that children, like adults, are individuals. Their learning may be adapted to their individual interests rather than trying to fit everyone in one mould.
Elena Francesca Barbiero – Reflexology And Emotional Freedom Technique Therapist
Elena specialises in stress-related issues, anxiety, fear-based conditions, and subconscious conditioning. A number of issues can be successfully addressed through a combination of complementary health techniques. The EFT (or tapping) is also called Energy Psychology and can be successfully combined to hand/foot/face reflexology. Reflexology has also proven to be very effective in supporting the body system in case of allergies and during pregnancy. Stimulation of appropriate pressure points can greatly ease the process of giving birth and postnatal recovery.
More information about Elena can be found at Very Healthy 123.