Why are the first years of your baby's life so important?
At birth your baby’s brain is approximately 25% of the size of an adult’s brain and by the age of three your child’s brain will be 80% of its full size. As you can see there is a large and rapid brain growth in those precious first few years.
How the Brain Develops The brain develops from the inside outwards. The outer layer, the cortex develops last. This is the part of the brain that makes us human. This is the “thinking brain”. At seven months’ gestation neurons begin to develop branches known as dendrites. Each neuron is connected to another at points called synapses. They continue to develop rapidly during the first few years after birth, particularly in the first two years. Every new experience (sight, touch, smell, sound, taste and movement) will create a new brain connection within your growing baby.
The brain has been described as having three levels and these can be associated with our evolutionary development (MacLean 1979)
First Level Reptilian Brain:
The first level is the Brain Stem
Controls basic needs of life such as breathing, heart rate, body temperature, sucking and muscle tone plus it maintains our consciousness and arousal
Tiny babies’ movements can be seen to be quite reptilian when they are first born
Brain stem is thought to be the most ancient part of our brain
Second Level Mammalian Brain
This is known as the Midbrain
Connects the brain stem to the thinking part of the brain the cortex
Babies during this stage will exhibit many mammalian-like movements and will learn new gross motor skills in (usually) this order: rolling, crawling, sitting, creeping and pulling up to standing
Midbrain controls emotions and instincts (limbic system), organisation of activities (basal ganglion), control of huger, thirst, temperature (hypothalamus) and the cerebellum controls our movement.
Third Level Human Brain
This is the Cortical brain and it allows us to be able to stand and move independently, to use our hands and learn to acquire information and memories.
It is this part of the brain that enables us to be rational, logical and have our human linguistic skills.
The cerebral cortex includes two hemispheres (sometimes referred to as the “right brain” and “left brain”) connected by the corpus callosum.
The right hemisphere is responsible for the senses and control of movement on the left-hand side of the body and the left hemisphere controls the senses and movement on the right.
The cortical brain is responsible for all voluntary (thinking) functions of the brain. You use this part of your brain when solve a math's problem, remember your favourite holiday location, or ask someone the time – it is the intellectual part
It is the least developed part of the brain at birth.
Why does it grow so rapidly? Within the first three years of a child’s life the brain does the majority of its growing. A study by the University of Chicago’s Benjamin Bloom concluded that by four most of the IQ is in place and that “general intelligence appears to develop as much from conception to age four as it does during the 14 years from 4-18” During this period major developmental hurdles will be achieved in a young child’s life:
Visual Development: a new born baby has limited vision but by three their vision is almost as sophisticated as an adult’s. This process will see huge brain growth with the development of billions of brain connections.
Gross Motor Development: a reflexive new born baby with no control over their own body will be running and jumping happily by the time they are three. Their vestibular system will be more mature and their muscle tone well developed.
Fine Motor Skills: the ability to use their hands to manipulate objects is being refined daily
Language Development – basic biological noises will have been replaced with over 1000 words by the age of three.
Thinking, logic and problem solving are being developed throughout these three years. This is the process by which the baby begins to become the independent human being. Every day there is something new to be learnt and enjoyed and life is one long adventure.
Smile and coo along with your baby and remember to follow and respond to their cues as this is the beginning of language development and social understanding
Talk through all your daily tasks: "I am turning on the lights now so that we can see as it gets dark", "let's give the cat some food as she is hungry"
Play simple games like peek-a-boo, pat-a-cakes, splashing in the bath
When out walking or looking out into the garden, tell your baby what you can see and point out things of interest. Ask them questions and wait for a response. Observe where your baby is looking and talk about what they can see
Look at colourful pictures or books. Talk about what you can see and read the story together - remember to make your voice and your expressions as animated as possible
Play some sorting games - it can be as easy as sorting the laundry or socks. Remember to use language such as in or out, full or empty, under or over
Talk about what you have all been doing during the day; this can help with memory skills
Give them plenty of opportunity for moving: tummy time, dancing together, playing on the swings in the park, rolling in the garden
Our Baby College at Home classes provide a wonderful mix of age appropriate activities, which have been designed to practise in your own homes and give you lots of fun activities to use all week long. Perfect for stimulating your baby's brain development. Why not try one of our Let’s Get Moving mini activity videos or a Let’s Get Learning one? Join Baby College SA at Home.