Building a strong foundation
Overwhelming evidence indicates that a child’s brain will develop at an incredible rate during the first few years of life. Brain connections are developed through the stimulation of senses: seeing, hearing, touching, smelling and tasting. These connections are strengthened through repetition, hence providing appropriate stimulation in the first six years, takes advantage of the windows of opportunity that allow children to learn most efficiently.
The basic architecture of the human brain is constructed through an ongoing process that begins before birth and continues into adulthood. Like the construction of a home, the building process begins with laying the foundation, framing the rooms and wiring the electrical system in a predictable sequence. A strong foundation in the early years increases the probability of positive outcomes.
Children's brains develop best in an environment of strong, consistent, nurturing relationships. These relationships buffer toxic stress, and include a "serve and return" process where children's attempts to interact with adults are met with attention and returned, much like serving and returning a ball in a game of tennis. When children lack these enriching interactions, they have less opportunity to develop their brains in these critical ways.
Brain Development Resources
The Norlien Foundation’s Alberta Family Wellness Initiative has produced a number of informative, easy-to-understand videos on different aspects of brain development.
The 2011 Early Brain and Biological Development Symposium highlights key presentations made during the foundation’s 2011 symposium.
The Frameworks of Early Brain Development covers four topics in-depth (60 min. each). http://www.albertafamilywellness.org/resources/learning-modules
Zero to Three.org, the National Center for Infants, Toddlers, and Families has lots of great information about early brain development.
With the Brain in Mind Focuses on the importance of positive early brain development in giving children the best possible start in life. By providing opportunities to learn about the latest research and best practices in early childhood brain development we aim to increase the capacity of parents, professionals, and policy makers to facilitate positive changes in the lives of children and young adults.
Brain Development Graph
During the first years of a child's life, their brain is most able to be shaped by their environment and experiences, positive or negative. Providing appropriate experiences during this critical period of development can help improve a child's lifelong healthy development. Children who experience extreme stress or trauma in the first few years of life are at greater risk of developing physical and mental health problems. Chronic stress can result from neglectful environments, physical or emotional abuse, extreme poverty, parental alcoholism or drug addiction.
Figure 2. Reference: Carneiro & Heckman, Human Capital Policy (2003).