Increase awareness of parents, grandparents, caregivers, and the community at large about the importance of proper brain development for children birth to age six.

Brain Development information from the Zero To Three organization:

The first three years of life are a period of incredible growth in all areas of a baby’s development.  A newborn’s brain is about 25% of its approximate adult weight.  But by age 3, it has grown dramatically by producing billions of cells and hundreds of trillions of connections, or synapses, between these cells.  While we know that the development of a young child’s brain takes years to complete, we also know there are many things parents and caregivers can do to help children get off to a good start and establish healthy patterns for life-long learning.

A Look at

Brain Development Facts

  • Research studies consistently find that the first three years of life are critical to the emotional and intellectual development of a child. During these early years, 75 percent of brain growth is completed.
  • The effects of this emotional and intellectual development will not be seen, in many cases, until your child reaches the third or fourth grade.  But what you do now will greatly affect whether your child is ready to learn when he or she enters school.

Consider this:

  • A child who is held and nurtured in a time of stress is less likely to respond with violence later.
  • A child who is read to has a much better chance of becoming a reader.
  • A child whose curiosity is encouraged has a better chance to become a lifetime learner.

How development works:

  • Even before your child is born, all the nerve cells he will ever possess have been formed. These nerve cells are like a mass of unconnected electrical wires. From the time your child is born, his brain will constantly strive to connect the wires.
  • But what makes the wires connect and what does the connection mean to a growing child?
  • Every time a infant is held, read to, or plays with a toy, these nerves make a connection.
  • During the early years of life, these wires are connecting at an amazing pace, and once-in-a-lifetime windows of opportunity are opening to learn certain tasks.
  • The wiring for sight, for example, is developed during the third and fourth month of life. If the visual system is not stimulated during this time, the ability to form the connections for sight are lost. The same concept is true of intellectual connections in the developing brain.
  • Until about 8 months of age, many things a child can do will be initiated by his own interest. First, he becomes looker. He shows his curiosity in many ways-interest in your face, in his hands, in feeling his clothing and blankets.
  • During the period after 8 months and until the age of 2 , every one of the four educational foundations-language, curiosity, intelligence and sociability-is developing.
  • It is important to establish the basic brain wiring during this very early age.
  • We are not suggesting a program to develop genius, rather, we advocate activities you can initiate to help your child be ready for school and exited to learn.

The following list includes some basic ideas.

  • Hold your baby.
  • Rock your baby.
  • Talk to your baby.
  • Sing to your baby.
  • Most especially, enjoy and respect your child as an individual.

The brain feeds on stimulation. For example:

Vision. In the 1960's Dr. David Hubel and Dr. Torsten Wiesel found that vision does not develop normally in cats if the eye and brain fail to make connections during a critical window of time in early life. In the test, one eye of the kittens was held closed after birth. After several weeks the restraint was removed and none of the kittens could see out of the eye that had been closed, even though it was perfectly normal.

There are several ways to stimulate vision. Try a mobile over the baby's bed, or black and white picture patterns. Your baby likes to look at objects held about 8 to 15 inches in front of him.

Language. Children whose parents talk to them frequently have better language skills than do children of parents who seldom talk to them. Research studies have shown that babies whose parent talked to them more had a more extensive vocabulary. At 20 months, babies of talkative parents knew 131 more words than infants of less talkative parents. At 24 months, the difference was 295.

Brain Power. Mice and rats raised in enriched environments, with toys and playmates, have billions more connections between brain cells and are better learners than mice and rats raised alone in empty cages.

Play is a good infant stimulation.  Toys do not have to be expensive, and can include pots, pans, and boxes. Toys and books are the tools of childhood. Dr. Stanley Greenspan's "The Challenging Child," coined the phrase "floor time." It means getting down on the floor and playing with your child. This starts at a very young age and progresses into "Candyland" and kick ball. Raising a child is not a spectator sport. Be involved in play with your child in the lead.

Aggression. Exposure to violence can hinder a child's ability to learn. "Children living with some chronic threat, domestic or community violence or physical abuse, continue to act fearful even when they are in school," said Dr. Bruce D. Perry, director of the Child Trauma Program at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston .

Constant exposure to an unpredictable, threatening environment causes the brain to repeatedly activate the brain systems that respond to threat or stress. Over time, fear becomes so ingrained that it becomes the child's normal state. The result is disastrous for children trying to learn.

"A torn jacket is soon mended, but harsh words bruise the heart of a child." - Longfellow

A child held and nurtured in a time of stress is less likely to respond with violence later. There is great medicine in a hug.

Touch. Touching is the way babies learn. Premature infants whose sensory systems are activated by being held and cuddled are more mentally alert and physically stronger than those who are isolated in incubators.

There are many activities you can play with your child as he grows. The aim can be fun, but many such activities will also help him develop and use his brain.

A Positive Circle

A premise in education is that we learn what matters to us. During these early years, an enriched curiosity and good language skills will lay the foundation for a child. It is a positive circle. The more a child explores and is exposed to new situations, the more that will matter to him, and the more he will want to learn.

A wonderful tradition as your child grows older can begin at your family's dinner table by asking your child, "What did you learn today?" As your child grows, it will be a routine part of the meal. A friend I knew would send her child to the encyclopedia for a morsel of information if she did not come to the table prepared for a discussion.

Unique and Special Qualities

It has taken hundreds of thousands of years to arrive at the birth of your very special child. Just think of parents, grandparents and great grandparents whose decisions and genes contributed to your child. If just one had moved to another city or country, the entire pattern would have been changed.

In your child, you have created a new individual, born with her own unique set of special qualities.

Your child is now beginning a journey which could span 100 years. The time you spend or don't spend with your child during the first few years can dramatically affect his or her entire life. Make the commitment to know your child. There is no greater gift a parent can give.

It is also important to help all children because many of them will be your child's future friend, fellow employee, neighbor, wife or husband. Every child is our child.

Starting Smart: How Early Experiences Influence Brain Development

Examines how a child's early experiences from birth to 3 can influence and shape brain development.