Why Ages 2-7 Matter So Much for Brain Development
- Dec 21, 2022
The renowned Greek philosopher, Aristotle, once said: "Give me a child until he is seven, and I will show you the man."
This wise saying has endured for centuries as a testament to the importance of early childhood development. Children are unlike adults: they are not mere passive learners; rather, they learn by observing and trying to make sense of everything in their surroundings. Their brains develop at different stages for different milestones such as their speech, behavior, learning, and play. During the early years, a child's environment has the potential to shape the person they will become.
Therefore, experiences and learning during their early years are quite important to lay the foundation of the brain's architecture that will shape their personality, language, emotions, memories, motor skills, and vision. According to the Center on Developing Child, Harvard University, more than 1 million new brain connections are made every second in the first few years of life. This early learning and connection forming are key to the development of a healthy, well-functioning brain.
Understanding the significance of this period in a child's development can help parents ensure that their children are learning skills that will help them develop a strong, healthy brain. We can't deny that this whole process might be a little overwhelming for parents, but thankfully, there are several things that parents can do to support their child’s development, such as:
Help form responsive relationships
Children grow and develop within an environment of relationships that starts with their families and also includes close friends, neighbors, caregivers, coaches, and educators. These relationships have a significant impact on almost every facet of development, including social, emotional, intellectual, physical, and behavioral development. Thereafter, the nature and stability of these relationships during the early years build the groundwork for a variety of outcomes like motivation to learn, mental health, and confidence. So parents should surround children with healthy relationships that help them maximize their brain development in a positive direction.
Encourage them to learn as they play
In the course of development, as the brain forms more complex circuits, more sophisticated and adaptive skills gradually emerge. Play helps the development of abstract thinking, which is the ability to understand things that are not tangible. Besides, playing fosters a state of low anxiety and offers an opportunity for fresh experiences, active involvement, and learning from peers and adults. Through play, children also learn to interact with each other, learn to share, and take turns. Thus, for very young children, play is the primary setting for all aspects of learning and forms an essential part of a child’s life and early learning process.
According to the book "From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development," if one area in the brain gets additional stimulation, the neural pathways within that area and the connections to other areas grow healthier and stronger through a process known as synaptic pruning after a period of high expansion, making brain circuits more effective. Thus, using appropriate play-based learning techniques is an essential part of early childhood.
Deploy age-appropriate skill-building activities
According to research by the Harvard Graduate School of Education, early childhood (birth to 7 years) is the ideal age to absorb lessons that stick with us for the rest of our lives. Therefore, to ensure that learning has a lasting impact. It is important to introduce age-appropriate skill-building activities. These will help them develop into self-aware, confident, and independent adults.
For example, parents can read a picture book to a toddler who is just learning to speak. This will encourage language development and increase their understanding of the world around them. They will concentrate on the pictures rather than on the written words. However, if parents ask young children to read— a skill for which their brain circuits are not yet developed—it can put them under unwanted stress, which may end up impairing the brain's development. Decoding written language is a later skill that develops through proper, higher-level brain circuitry. Parents should therefore be aware of the age-appropriate learning materials and activities that are suitable for their child's current stage of development.
Interact with your child
Children naturally reach out to adults through interaction. The dynamic and reciprocal interactions mould the architecture of the developing brain, which is necessary for normal functioning. Interactive play and conversation promote greater learning in children. Kids' vocabulary will grow as a result of active interactions, such as reading books, singing, playing word games, and other interactive activities that provide them more opportunities to practise listening. he conversational skills of children advance along with their language ability. Children can follow more complicated instructions and enthusiastically discuss their experiences when they are 4 years old. Thus, healthy positive interaction can go a long way in developing a child’s brain.
A child’s brain needs lots of energy to grow. It also has to be healthy and shielded from diseases and ailments to learn and develop normally. 2-7 years of a child’s age is a crucial period, and a healthy diet influences mental abilities like concentration and memory and also helps in the development of cognitive skills. Eggs, salmon, dry fruits, and oats are examples of foods that can improve brain function. They should eat as and when required, as children's eating needs are different from adults.
The first few years following birth are crucial for the development of the brain's architecture, but the window for its growth does not end with a child's 7th birthday. Even though these years are the most important for cognitive development, a child's brain can still continue to grow and develop after that. This means that even after a child's seventh birthday, there are still many important developmental milestones they will reach and experiences that can shape their personality. Thus, it is important for parents to be aware in order to help children grow into well-rounded adults.
Parents should provide their children with an age-appropriate environment that encourages exploration and is conducive to life-long learning!
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