Early Brain Development

Shelby Ek and Kristen Eagle

The Structure of the Brain

In the first year of life, a baby's intellectual and motor skills grow at amazing rates. Development happens faster in the first year than at any other time of life.

Activities can stimulate the baby's senses of sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell. This helps the infant's brain develop new abilities.

At birth, the brain has billions of neurons. A neuron is a nerve cell. Immediately after experiencing a stimulation, links between neurons develop.  These links are called neural pathways. They control different body functions and thinking processes. Neural pathways reach their maximum number at around age ten.

Parts of the Brain

The brain is divided into different sections. Each section controls a specific function of the body.

The cortex is part of the brain's cerebrum and its growth permits more complex learning.

The Cerebrum receives information from the senses and directs motor activities. It controls such functions as speech, memory, and problem solving. Most of these activities occur in the outer layer, called the cortex.

The Pituitary Gland secretes hormones that control growth, metabolism, and sexual development.

The Brain Stem controls involuntary activities such as breathing, heart rate, and blood pressure.

The Thalamus relays sensory information from other parts of the brain to the cerebral cortex.

The Cerebellum controls muscular coordination, balance, and posture.

The spinal cord transmit information from the body to the brain and from the brain to the body. It controls simple reflexes that do not involve the brain.

How the Brain Works

The brain contains billions of nerve cells called neurons. Neurons are tiny messenger cells that transmit information in the brain and nervous system through electrical chemical process.

Neurons are connected by axons and dendrites.

An axon is the connection between neurons. Each axon is coated with myelin.

Myelin is a fatty, insulating substance, which helps transmit information.

A dendrite is a branchlike feature at the end of each axon that receives the electrical messages from other neurons. Dendrites reach out toward the axons of other neurons. The dendrites and axons do not touch, but they come close.

A synapse is the tiny gap between the dendrites where messages are transmitted from one neuron to another.

A neurotransmitter is a chemical released by the axon.

Developing the Brain

More dendrites= more learning

The more dendrites that neurons grow and the more links that develop between neurons, the more neutral pathways are created in the brain, so the brain can do more tasks and control more actions.

How Brain is Organized

Each child's brain becomes organized in a unique way because organization is based on particular experiences that are unique to the child. The connections affect all areas of behavior. Systems of neurons work together to influence how babies see and hear, as well as how they think and remember.

At the same time, connections are lost and new ones are added. This is called branching.

The connections between neurons are not permanent. They can be broken when the behavior or idea is not repeated and the synaptic pathways fade away if they are not used. This process is called pruning.

Branching and pruning help the brain focus only on useful connections, thus acquire more skills.

Is the Brain Organized Only Once?

No. Some children who suffer from damage to the brain area that controls language have still learned to speak. The brain can be reorganized. The brain will continue to develop through responses to life's experiences.

Stimulating Infant Brain Development

Keep it simple and natural: Everyday experiences, such as changing a diaper of giving birth, build the pathways between neurons when combined with cuddling, talking, or singing to the baby. Experts urge parents to give children an environment rich with positive interaction and talking.

Match experiences to the child's mental abilities: Babies need physical experiences. That is how they learn. It is important to provide experiences at their level of understanding.

Practice Makes Perfect: The more repetition, the stronger the connections between neurons become. Establish routines with the baby so the baby learns what to expect.

Actively involve the baby: Provide experiences in which the child takes part. Children of all ages learn best by doing.

Provide variety, but avoid overload: Some parents try to expose their baby to as much different experience as possible to enhance brain development. Babies do benefit from a variety of experiences, but too much can overwhelm them.

Avoid pushing the child: Children learn better if they are interested in what they are doing. Look for clues as to whether the child shows interest in the activity. It not, do not pursue it.

Speeding the Brain's Work

Myelin makes it easier for axons to tranmit signals. It speeds the neuron's work.

Myelin coating is added in different areas at different times.

The rate at which axons receive this fatty coating may explain why some children have difficulty learning certain tasks.

If the nerves controlling a certain activity are not yet covered with myelin, it is difficult for a child to do that task.

Myelin is so crucial to the speed at which nerves function. If the coating is lost, it affects the way the brain and body function.

Multiple sclerosis is a disease in which the absence of myelin plays a role.

How Caregivers can Help

You can support the brain's work by giving the child a stimulating environment.

Repetition with actions and activities are also important.

Here are some interesting websites about Early Brain Development:



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