A child’s environment interacts with their genes. We say inheritance and environment shape the child’s brain.
A child’s genetic endowment provides the bedrock of development, but it is the child’s everyday experiences and relationships that develop their brain. (Brain is the physical aspect)
The family is the ongoing influence on the child’s development. The family unit is of great interest to governments who provide health and education services to the community.
The primary connections or wiring in a child’s brain are normally there at birth. Synapses are updated during the first few years of a child’s life. It is the so-called wiring or structure of a child’s brain that programs a child’s development.
By the age of three a child’s brain has developed 1000 trillion brain connections or synapses.
The environment, relationships, and the child’s experiences determine which synapses will be pruned and which neural circuits becomes the foundation for later development.
Epigenetics is a new science research area. There is evidence to suggest that a child’s genes can potentially develop in response to environmental factors.
If a child experiences stress and lack of family bonding severe enough to increase their hormone levels (cortisol) and heart rate their brain development can be severely affected.
STRESS FACTORS INCLUDE
- Physical or sexual abuse
- Lack of affection
- Family violence
- Inadequate housing
- Mental illness of a parent
Life is stressful. Caring and positive relationships can be a buffer to life stresses in the family. A child has a stress management system in the brain that needs to be activated. If this system isn’t carefully enabled a child can develop lifelong learning problems.
TOXIC STRESS IN THE EARLY YEARS CAN DAMAGE A CHILD’S BRAIN DEVELOPMENT
Caring and positive relationships promote resilience in babies and children. We know that resilience is one of the most important life skills to develop.
THE NEURAL SYSTEMS OF THE BRAIN
The brain has a hierarchical architecture.
- A child’s brain is developed from the foundation received at birth.
- A firm foundation is necessary for future brain development.
- Higher level circuits are built from lower ones.
- Each skill that is developed precedes the next.
- It is difficult for a child to develop complex higher order thinking skills if the foundation of their brain is poorly developed.
- The types of circuits that are built on top of the foundation are difficult to change so it is important to get them right the first time.
- Positive early experiences provide the foundation for other skill development
THE CRITICAL STAGES IN BRAIN DEVELOPMENT
A child’s brain is programmed for events and experiences to happen at particular times to ensure the correct wiring occurs. For example if a child’s hearing isn’t adequate or remains undiagnosed at an early age the brain will not receive the sounds that lead to language development. As a result the language parts of the brain do not develop.
Young children rely on their parents and care givers to give them the right experiences at the right time of their life so the foundation for learning in later life is firmly settled.
I can be contacted at Marilyn@activitiesforsmartkids.com I would be delighted to hear from you.
Genes: A sequence of DNA which forms part of a chromosome by which children inherit characteristics from their parent.
Circuit: A system that forms a complete path for an electrical circuit.
Cortisol: A hormone.
Hormone: A substance transported in tissue fluids to specific cells or tissues to activate them.
Neural: Relating to a nerve or nervous system.
Resilience: The ability to recover from difficult situations.
Synapses: A gap between 2 nerve cells across which nerve impulses are conducted.
Trillion: A million, million, million.