The power of the human brain is amazing. Experts met at the Urban Child Institute to discuss the science of brains, and how to maximize early brain development.
Just the Facts
At birth, our brains contain 100 billion neurons, each with up to 10,000 synapses, the tiny connecters that spark information from point to point, making us the clever, adaptable species we are. The period from birth to age 3 is crucial in preparing us for success in life, as up to 700 neurons a second are forming in the developing brain. Only those used regularly will stay active, so the more brain-training that happens in the first three years the better. As parents, making the most of these first 36 months is a must, but the good news is that it’s both fun and relatively easy. It’s all about exposure to experiences; new sights and sounds, new people and conversation, new tastes.
The Bad News
Unfortunately, children who are deprived of early, safe experiences are deprived of potential. The expected outcomes for these children are bleak; smaller brains with fewer synapses and neurons, smaller vocabulary and ability to communicate as well as social and emotional impairment. Cutting-edge science even shows that neglect and stress in this first period of life can have disastrous effects on health as people age. Children who suffer adverse childhood experiences are more likely to develop habits like alcoholism and drug abuse, are at a higher risk for chronic illnesses like diabetes and STDs, and perhaps most stark, they are more likely to die young.
Pathways to Healthy Brains
Your child is a human sponge, ready to absorb. Strapped into a kid-carrier or pushed into a stroller, your child is a portable student of life. Talk to him, narrating the activities you do together. Ask questions about the people and objects you encounter. Guide your child’s innate curiosity toward discovery. Social settings with peers like preschool and church groups can also be great for little ones. They learn through observing others, mimicking behavior, and experimenting with their own communication skills. As your child settles into the self that he will carry through life, he will try on different traits and attributes to find those that suit him best. Giving children a lot of information to pull from expands their potential greatly.
Good for All of Us
Brain Awareness Month lectures also touched on something that often gets overlooked: Equipping our children with the powerful tools they carry through life has the potential to change our community for the better. When children are exposed to a wide array of unique, positive experiences in the first three years, their health improves, reducing healthcare costs. They are less likely to need financial assistance, less likely to be incarcerated and more likely to achieve academic success and land better jobs.