Brain Development During the Early Years

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Brain Development During the Early Years: Neuroscience and Education: 

Brain Development During the Early Years: Neuroscience and Education I Early Childhood EIS Conference Copan, Honduras March 12-13, 2005

Brain Development During the Early Years: 

Brain Development During the Early Years Agenda How the human brain develops, neurulation, migration, and connections. The emergence of the senses plus one. The brain develops neurological workstations. Tying the knot with education. What’s best for children. Bonus – What’s best for adults.

The BIG Ideas: 

The BIG Ideas Understanding the brain leads to new insights about learning. The brain begins its development days after conception and continues to make new connections throughout life. During the early years there are critical times for the senses to complete their development. Parents, educators, and daycare providers can study what is going on in a child’s brain to make decisions to support the child’s learning. Oral language development prepares the brain for reading.

What is our job as parents and educators?: 

It is our job to study information from the science of neurology so we can: Interpret information about the macrostructures and microstructures of the brain for useable conversation among educators and parents, Study development of the brain throughout childhood to understand what is set by nature and what is possibly influenced through nurture, and Determine what information is applicable to families and educators as they care for and educate children. What is our job as parents and educators?

1. Understanding the brain leads to new insights about learning.: 

1. Understanding the brain leads to new insights about learning.

Brain Microstructures: 

Neurons develop at the rate of up to 250,000 per minute during fetal development. Neurons are composed of a nucleus and cell body with one axon and up to 100,000 dendrites (depending on stimulation). Glial cells, assist the neuron firing process when they become mylinated and they are nursemaids to the neurons. Adult brains have 100 billion neurons and a million billion connections… that’s one quadrillion!!! As much as 83% of the growth of the dendrites and synapses development occurs after birth. Elliot 25-27 Brain Microstructures



At birth the neurons in the cerebral cortex at the front of the baby’s brain are smaller and have many fewer branches than they will a few weeks later. At three months of age a baby’s dendritic forests are already branching and growing based on the child’s genetic program and on just the first 12 weeks of his or her life.

2. The brain begins its development days after conception and continues to make new connections throughout life.: 

2. The brain begins its development days after conception and continues to make new connections throughout life.


During the months of gestation, the brain grows with astonishing speed.

How the Brain Develops – Startling Facts: 

19 days after conception neurulation, development of the brain and nervous system, is evident. At 26 days the embryo has closed the tube running its length that will become the spinal cord, 6 weeks reveals the beginnings of the pons and medula in the brain stem, the cerebrum, thalamus, basal ganglia, limbic system, and cerebral cortex. At 8 weeks and at two inches in length, the baby is now called a fetus with its human form. 4 months into the pregnancy the 8 inch fetus has visible fingers and toes, a four chambered beating heart, and an intact central nervous system. At 6 months the fourteen inch fetus is capable, under dire circumstances to live outside the womb. This information is from Elise Eliot, What’s Going on in There? How the brain and Mind Develop in the First Five Years of Life, pp. 15-27 How the Brain Develops – Startling Facts

It is All About Senses for Infants - TOUCH: 

Touch is one of the most developed senses at birth. Touch sensation runs from the spinal cord to the brain stem and to the thalamus, then to the somatosensory cortex so that the baby can feel the touch (pressure, pain, hot, and cold). Many more sensory receptor are located around the face, especially the mouth, and in the hands and fingers than in the rest of the body. Touch sensitivity develops from a head to toe sequence. Touch through massage therapy is used for preterm babies, and for children of all ages as treatment for asthma, diabetes, cancer, autism, skin problems, juvenile arthritis, eating disorders and psychiatric syndromes (Eliot, 143). Touching babies is programmed parental behavior, a natural and loving activity that promotes health and normal growth. It is All About Senses for Infants - TOUCH


The amount of touch, whether it is cuddling, carrying, patting, cradling, or massaging is clearly important to baby’s emotional and cognitive development. Did you know…..

It is All About Senses for Infants – VESTIBULAR SYSTEMS: 

The vestibular system: Allows maintenance of head and body posture for body movement. Allows the eyes to keep the visual field during bouncing and rocking. Is housed in the inner ear with the hearing chambers. Uses the semi-circular canals to detect head turns and the otolith to detect linear movements, body position, and head tilts. Relies on maturation for the child’s postural abilities of vision, proprioceptive and motor skills, sense of balance not fully mature until age 7 and for some not until puberty. Can be slow to develop and cause delayed motor skills. It is All About Senses for Infants – VESTIBULAR SYSTEMS


Infants cry less when they are being carried, jiggled, swung, or rocked, all stimulation to this system. And it is good for the emerging mind. Did you know….. Babies are born with a highly developed sense of balance and motion as a type of 'sixth' sense.

It is All About Senses for Infants – SMELL: 

A mucus layer inside the nostril with hair like cilia detect odors and send them to the olfactory bulbs located underneath the frontal lobe. Hedonics, the distinction between good and bad smells is not completely developed until around 3 years of age. The completely developed sense of smell at birth is important to critical nutritional needs. Smell is important to bonding and emotional security. Parents and care providers are advised not to change lotions or soap, not to wash blankets or stuffed animals unnecessarily, and make the olfactory environment stable, pleasant, and comforting. It is All About Senses for Infants – SMELL


Did you know….. The sense of smell is the only one that is completely developed prior to birth. During the third trimester baby smells everything mom eats or inhales.

It is All About Senses for Infants – TASTE: 

Chemical detectors on the tongue, the roof, soft palate, and upper throat area detect four categories – sweet, salty, bitter and sour. The tongue alone has about 4,500 taste buds and each taste bud can have as many as forty taste receptor cells. Taste stimulation to the medula activates salivation, swallowing, and tongue movements. Taste information to several limbic systems controls our motivation to eat and drink. The full appreciation of taste is coordinated with the sense of smell. When smell is blocked up to 90% of the refined sense of taste can be lost. Other factors, such as texture and temperature affect likes and dislikes for taste. It is All About Senses for Infants – TASTE

It is All About Senses for Infants – VISION: 

Vision begins as neurons migrate to the area of the brain for visual interpretation (set by nature), but complete the process of forming a refined map of neural wiring through the very act of seeing (determined by nature). Postnatal experiences shape the visual centers of the brain. Depth perception, color vision, fine acuity, and well controlled eye movement are in place at 6 months. The brain’s task is to convert light information into electrical signals that map out each color and point in a visual field. Images are a series of dots that are filled in by the brain to interpret what the object or objects are. There are at least 32 different areas of each hemisphere that are devoted to parallel processing of visual stimuli. It is All About Senses for Infants – VISION


Did you know….. At two month baby develops obligatory looking, which becomes a 'gaze-fest' and engages mom and dad to 'fall in love' with baby.

It is All About Senses for Infants – HEARING: 

Hearing begins about 12 weeks before birth and at birth baby has a definite preference for mom’s voice. Very young babies show a propensity of interest in the language spoken in their environment. Babies and young children prefer to hear 'motherese' the slower, higher-pitched words with strong intonation that is used by care-providers. Auditory development is impressionable during the preschool and early grade school years. Experience of different sounds at a young age influences the ability to discriminate sounds in older years. Potential for hearing loss is prior to and just after the fifteenth week of gestation. Hearing is probably the most important sense for learning, as experience with language, rhythm, and music stimulate the brain for intellectual and emotional growth. It is All About Senses for Infants – HEARING


Did you know….. Children of all ages love music and it provides cognitive growth, bonding with care-providers, and emotional comfort.


TOUCH SPATIAL AWARENESS VISION COORDINATION HEARING TASTE SMELL Input from the senses is sent to the thalamus, except the sense of smell. From the thalamus it is sent to other areas of the brain for interpretation.

4. Important adults can learn what is going on in a child’s brain to make decisions to support the child’s learning.: 

4. Important adults can learn what is going on in a child’s brain to make decisions to support the child’s learning. The brain develops itself as children connect new experiences with something they already know to form neurological workstations. 'CONNECTING TO BACKGROUND KNOWLEDGE'

How the Brain Develops: 

Childhood experiences are so powerful that they can completely change the ability of a child to be successful in school. How the Brain Develops Research shows that between ages 3 and 8, a child’s brain can adapt to any set of conditions by using twice as many neurons, twice as many connections, and twice as much energy as an adult brain. – Robert Holz, Science Writer. 4 years 10-12 years Glucose Utilization It is during childhood that the brain builds foundations for: Vision and hearing Language Vocabulary Muscle control Birth Intellectual development Emotional development


Leading child development specialists and researchers cite these qualities for parents who wish to raise a smarter child: Books, music tapes, compact discs and toys that are appropriate to child’s developmental level are available to use. Father’s involvement with family activities on a daily basis. Visible signs that the child is recognized as special in the house, pictures, work samples, special places. The youngster is included in conversations, with compliments and celebrations of his/her milestones. (Ramey and Ramey) Birth order is an advantage to the oldest child. Working mothers is a complicated and unresolved issue. Prenatal experience has a powerful impact on intelligence. Nutritional, brain-building food encourages brain growth with healthy myelin covered neurons, and strong connections among neuron and brain systems. PARENT and FAMILY FACTORS



What’s Best…: 

Opportunity to explore and a great variety of play things to encourage activity and curiosity. Musical keyboard may improve spatial-temporal reasoning and mathematical thinking. It becomes finger movements, location, pitch, timing, and aesthetic feedback. Responsive, involved, nurturing, and softly demanding parents. Starting school at the age-appropriate time (Eliot). Active involvement for the parent with a parenting group and/or child rearing books. Encouragement and exploration. Lots of talk with child and recognition of gestures and social cues. Stimulate all the brain’s senses by exposing young children to different music, objects, colors, textures, smells, sounds, shapes, and word. Experience with problem solving and reasoning, and development of different motor skills. (Diamond and Hobson) What’s Best…

5. Oral language development prepares the brain for reading.: 

5. Oral language development prepares the brain for reading.

Huge Word Gap in Three Year Olds: 

Study conducted by Betty Hart, University of Kansas, and Todd R. Risley University of Alaska, reported in the American Educator, Spring, 2003, 4-9. Study conducted over 3 years with 42 families with toddlers with follow-up in third grade. Huge Word Gap in Three Year Olds Key Findings: 86 to 98% of words in children’s vocabulary reflected parents vocabulary. By age 3 trends in amount of talk, vocabulary development, style of interactions well established and greatly impacted for families with low SES compared to average and high SES. Indicators for vocabulary use and reading comprehension at grade 3 were predicted at age 3. During the first three years children are very impressionable and ultimately dependent upon families for their experiences.

TV Watching and Attention Problems: 

TV Watching and Attention Problems Key Points to Consider about TV Viewing There are many important developments and connections occurring in the brains of children ages 0-2. The brain is stimulated by engagement and activity. Watching television is generally a passive activity. Parents and care providers can make limited television and use of carefully selected videos engaging and stimulating experiences for children three years and older. Households with children can be monitored by adults for the use of television to determine what is watched, when, and why. Adequate research supports that too much television is detrimental to the child’s developing brain and that children do not need exposure to violence from television.

Neuroethics and Imperfections of the Brain: 

Neuroethics and Imperfections of the Brain Why the Human Memory is Notoriously Imperfect Transience – as time passes recollection retreats, details become less accurate, if available at all. Absent-mindedness – falling to pay attention at the time of the event or activity results in irritating lapses or forgetfulness. Blocking – temporary inaccessibility of stored information that may be very well known. Misattribution – memories that are stored with other ideas or events that were not in actuality related, but have been connected as if they are. Suggestibility – implanting memories or ideas through emotion, intensity, or novelty. Bias – distortion of what is remembered based upon current information, beliefs, or values. Persistence – unwanted recollections that cannot be forgotten.


Neurobics Adults can engage in neurobics by changing activities in their lives that are routine. Brush your teeth with your non-dominant hand. Sit in a different chair each time you eat. Shower with your eyes closed. Park in a different spot in the parking lot. Buy fresh foods, not those that are pre-packaged. Learn new card or social games. Work at making new friends. Make new family situations. Engage in internal jogging – laughter. Develop a playful avocation. Listen to a new type of music. Take a walk in the rain. Novelty, cognitive dissonance, intensity of stimuli, meaning, and emotion are ways that focus students’ attention for learning. They can be a real boost for adults too. Lawrence Kats, neurobiologist from Duke University


The brain is without doubt our most fascinating organ. Parents, educators, and society as a whole have a tremendous power to shape the wrinkly universe inside each child’s head, and, with it, the kind of person he or she will turn to be. We owe it to our children to help them grow the best brains possible. Lois Eliot, Ph. D., What is Going on In There?, 1999, p.10

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