At birth there are about 100 billion brain cells produced and they are beginning to connect with each other. At the first week of age, brain development starts with conception. It is important to reach the age of an infant and practice the ten principals. In the early years, young brains produce almost twice as many synapses as they will need. By age two, the number of synapses a toddler has is similar to that of an adult. By three the child has twice as many synapses as an adult. The infant brain develops through the interaction with the world around, especially the interaction with adults.
At the first few months, an infant cannot response to praise or punishment. Emerging research on brain development indicates that the degree for responsive care giving that children receive as infants and toddlers positively affects the connections between neurons in the brain (Brain Cells), and the architecture of the brain itself. The first three years of life are the period of growth in all areas of a baby’s development. Consistent, responsive relationships enable infants and toddlers to develop secure attachments.
Infants and Toddlers develop knowing and understanding by perceiving experiences directly with the senses. For infants to acquire the ability to comprehend this sensory information they must b able to distinguish between the familiar and the unknown; later they will begin to consider, to formulate, and to form mental images in this process of experiencing and clarifying the environment. Infants begin by exploring the world with their bodies. They internalize what they take in through their senses and display it in their physical movements.
Infants gather vital information through such simple acts as mouthing, grasping, and reaching. The knowing process also involves language abilities. As young children use their senses to experience the world, they need labels to categorize and remember these experiences. By creating these labels, children increase their ability to communicate and begin to control their own behavior. These expanded abilities give young children additional opportunities to understand the world (Infant, Toddlers, and Caregiver Ninth Edition).
Recent brain research supports the goal of building a total person instead of concentrating on cognitive development alone. Providing a rich environment with interesting things to do is desirable and stimulates cognitive development. But that does not work without working on physical, social, and emotional development at the same time. What make differences are the day-to-day living, the relationships, the experiences, the diapering, the feedings, the toilet training, and the free play and exploration that contribute to intellectual development.
Early experiences matter, and shape brain architecture. Advances in brain research have provided great insight into how young children’s experiences have profound impact on genetic predispositions and thereby share the processes that determine whether their brains will have adaptations or maladaptations for later learning, memory, reasoning, executive functioning, expressing a full range of positive and negative emotions, socialization, behavior control and lifelong health.
The thrust of this element is to close the gap between what we have learned and what we do with infants and toddlers. Experiences that prepare the developing brain to function optimally include having warm, nurturing, attentive social interactions and conscientiously buffering young children from the adverse impact of toxic stress. Lack of these kinds of experiences can have devastating, long-term effects on brain development including cognitive functioning and social-emotional competencies.
For example, unpredictable or chaotic routines or lack of consistent caregivers may jeopardize children’s foundation for identity development or self regulation, or few language experiences, toys, and opportunities to explore impede the development of neural connections and pathways that facilitate learning (Essential elements of Quality-Infant-toddler Program). To deliver high quality care giving, adults need to understand and recognize key developmental processes that help them understand and support infants and toddlers.
Since this essential element explicitly identifies knowledge about key developmental processes threats to them as a factor in quality infant-toddler program, three terms are defined as important pieces of a wider knowledge base about brain development that informs practice: serve and return, executive functioning and toxic stress. Serve and return is the interaction between young children and their parents and caregiver is a key to healthy brain development.
It helps to create neural connections that build later cognitive and emotional skills. Executive functioning represents the cognitive skills that enable a child to focus on, hold, and think about information, filter distractions; and divert their attention to something new. The foundation for executive functioning is laid in infancy and is facilitated through early experiences. Acquiring the early building blocks of (executive functioning) skills is one of the most important and challenging tasks of the early childhood years.
Toxic stress is defined as strong, frequent, and/or prolonged adversity without adequate adult support. Toxic stress disrupts brain development. While some experience with manageable stress is important for healthy development, prolonged, uninterrupted, overwhelming stress; toxic stress without the buffering relationships a child needs, can result in damaged, weakened systems and brain architecture that can have negative long-term effect (Essential Elements of Quality-Infant-Toddler Program). Environments make a difference in brain development.
Environments that provide proper nutrition and regularly scheduled periods of sleep and physical activity consistently promote warm, nurturing, attentive social interaction; and conscientiously buffer young children from the adverse impacts of toxic stress. Lack of adequate nutrition, physical activity, appropriate sensory stimulation or social-emotional developmental experiences disrupt brain architecture and can have a decisively negative Impact on future development (Essential Elements of Quality-Infant-Toddler Program).
Finding about the impact of early experiences on brain development highlight the importance of intervening early with highly stressed infants and toddlers and their families. Infants and children who are rarely spoken to, who are exposed to few toys, and who have little opportunity to explore and experiment with their environment may fail to fully develop the neural connections and path ways that facilitate later learning. Despite their normal genetic endowment, these children are at a significant intellectual disadvantage and are likely to require costly special education or other remedial services when they enter school.
Fortunately, intervention programs that start working with children and their families at birth or even prenatally can help prevent this tragic loss of potential. While high-quality infant and toddler programs are not necessarily intervention programs. When caregiver and parenting practices are grounded in knowledge of early brain development, caregivers and parents are much more effective in providing experiences that facilitate optimal development including strong brain architecture (Essential element of Quality-Infant-Toddler Program).