The brain is a magnificent part of our body. The development of the brain and research on it is crucial to the developing child. The experiences a child has during this time will shape the architecture of her brain and build the connections that allow them to develop lifelong skills like problem-solving, communication, self-control, and relationship building, that will allow them to survive and thrive within her family, community, and culture. (ZERO to THREE, 2016). In this analysis, I will describe the development of the brain from conception to early preschool.
Just sixteen days after conception, in the first trimester, the brain’s foundation begins to develop. Around six to seven weeks the neural tubes form and break into three parts; the forebrain, midbrain, and hindbrain. (Expect Editors, 2017). The back of the hindbrain will eventually turn into the spinal cord. The areas will divide into the five parts of the brain. Nerves begin to form and synapse form which will help the brain to communicate to the rest of the body to aid in movement.
The second trimester the fetus can suck and swallow. The fetus can also start to kick, which the mother will begin to feel. Around the same time, your baby’s nerves become covered with myelin, a protective insulation that speeds messages between nerve cell this will continue to grow until the baby’s first birthday. (Expect Editors, 2017). Close to the end of the second trimester the fetus’ brainstem is close to being mature. The nervous system is developed enough that the fetus may recognize voices. At 28 weeks, fetal brainwave activity features sleep cycles, including REM. (Expect Editors, 2017).
The third trimester is a rapid growth stage. The brain roughly triples in weight during the last 13 weeks of gestation, growing from about 3.5 ounces at the end the second trimester to almost 10.6 ounces at term. (Expect Editors, 2017). The fetus’ brain also changes shape and it is more recognizable on imagining like we are used to seeing. Even though all of this brain growth occurs during utero the systems do not fully function after birth. These functions will continue to develop and mature during the first year of life.
During the first year of life the infants brain goes through many changes. Brain development is at its highest the first years of life. (Glasser, 2014). The baby has a “soft spot” on their head for two reasons, the first is to allow the head to fit through the birth canal and the second reason is to allow the brain to grow. Researchers say that the average three-year-old brain is roughly 80% the size of an adult brain. During this first year of rapid brain growth the vision area of the brain is being developed, infants are able to recognize human faces and can start to discriminate between facial expressions in regard to emotions. (Kids Matter, 2014). They can begin to recognize voices of caregivers. They begin to develop early sensory motor skills such as reaching for objects. Sensory stimulation is very important to the brain of the developing infant. The developmental milestones Gesell researched are seen during this developmental stage. Infants progress in a certain order. They develop head and neck control, are able to roll over, and can sit up. Erikson’s theory of Trust vs. Mistrust is visible in this stage of brain development. When infants ‘needs are met they begin to develop a strong and positive relationship which will aid in their social development throughout their life.
The brain is still developing at a rapid rate during the second year of life. Motor skill are sharpening. The toddler’s vocabulary, in most cases, has quadrupled. According to Kids Matter, language areas increased development of synapses and interconnections. The toddler is able to complete more complex tasks, complete two step directions. They have more complex thoughts and have cognitive flexibility. Cognitively the toddler is starting to understand the relationship between objects. Sorting toys and puzzles are excellent was to promote healthy cognitive brain development for a toddler. They are little parrots. They mimic real life experiences. Emotionally toddlers are still very egocentric but are starting to show a little empathy and develop social relationships.
Brain development during this age (3) is characterized by its “blossoming” nature, showing some of its most dynamic and elaborative anatomical and physiological changes. (Brown, T., & Jernigan, T. p.313). Three year olds are starting to be able to manage and understand their emotion. They are able to complete more complex fine motor tasks such as early writing and stringing beads. Memorization of songs and books. Their language areas are really developing and are interconnecting with other regions of the brain. Development of frontal lobes, associated with greater skills in reasoning and understanding of complex ideas. (Kids Matter, 2014).
Not only is healthy brain development important to developing the whole child, developmentally appropriate interactions, bonding, and providing a safe and nurturing environment will ensure, in most cases, a secure and well-rounded individual. Bowlby describes attachment as a “lasting psychological connectedness between human beings.”
As an infant develops they need to feel an emotional connection with their caregiver. This will help them both socially and emotionally as they go through many stages in life. Attachment, in my opinion, starts with that initial skin to skin contact immediately following birth. That connects the mother and the infant not only physically but emotionally as well.
There are four types of parent infant attachments, secure, avoidant, resistant, and disorganized. The quality of attachment that an infant develops with a specific caregiver is largely determined by the caregiver’s response to the infant when the infant’s attachment system is ‘activated’ (when the infant’s feelings of safety and security are threatened, such as when he/she is ill, physically hurt or emotionally upset; particularly, frightened). (Benoit, 2004). At around six months old an infant can expect the caregivers’ response to their needs. This is very important. If they are handled lovingly it lets the infant know they are safe and secure and good or bad their needs will be met. “During the first six months of life, promptly picking up a baby who is crying is associated with four major outcomes by the end of the first year of life. First, the baby cries less. Second, the baby has learned to self-soothe. Third, if the baby needs the caregiver to soothe him/her, the baby will respond more promptly. And finally, the caregiver who responded promptly and warmly most of the time to the baby’s cries, will have created secure, organized attachment with all of the associated benefits.” (Benoit, 2004). Physical touch whether a hug, kiss, gentle touch is welcomed by an infant. It aids in building relationships along their journey in life. Along with the importance of the role of attachment comes developmentally appropriate interactions and positive safe environments to bring an infant up in.
Infants need developmentally appropriate interactions with their caregivers to promote healthy cognitive, social, emotional, and physical development. Cognitive skills will develop when infant are read to, sung to, and talked to. This will support oral language and strengthen vocabulary as they grow. Socially and emotionally, interact with infants. Attending story time at a library is a perfect place to socialize babies. Let them explore and help them to feel secure. Physically there are many developmentally appropriate practices one could do with infants. Tummy time, which strengthens the core and aids in head and neck control, is an excellent physical activity. Rolling a ball back and forth are a great way to develop gross motor skills There are many toys that are developmentally appropriate that help with fine motor and cognitive development. It is also imperative to provide a safe environment for infants.
Environments need to be free from hazards, infants are very curious and are always exploring. The environment also needs to be calm, inviting, and nurturing. A calm environment is ideal for the growing infant. Not only is the home environment important, the social environment plays a role in the developing infant. Socioeconomic status plays a role in emotional and cognitive development. Studies have shown that children from low income families usually act out and attention deficits are apparent. As you can see there are so many factors that aid in raising a healthy well rounded infant.