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What's Going On In There? How the Brain and Mind Develop in the First Five Years of Life
- By Lise Eliot, Ph.D

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A Wonder that is Children Brain - Knowing the Basic Science of Working Brain

By Andrew Loh



The human brain is an ever evolving organ that forms right during the prenatal life. True that it is a lifelong project that also involves a series of amazing changes and transformations. Two specific events are known to take place while a baby is growing – very quick brain development to streamline specific areas of brain and their functions, and the onset of storing information, skills and memories in a rudimentary manner. The former has certain time limitations as the brain development process in terms of organ growth stops when the child reaches about 12 years of age. On the other hand, the memory storing, retention and storing process goes on forever until the brain activities stop completely.

Although the brain grows by a lesser degree in adults, the major difference between it and growth in children is the extent at which the brain grows. In a young child's life, the brain growth is quite elastic or plastic meaning its formation is still in progress and its basic structure can change depending on the gene formation and other events. The brain of a new born baby is still rudimentary and it still needs a considerable amount of work to streamline itself into a well-formed organ. An un-mature brain is not even and it is just more than twenty-five percent of adult size brain. When a child is born, only the bottom portions of the nervous system are developed well while the top portions in the higher regions are still primitive and rudimentary.

Hence, almost all newborn's behavioral patterns are controlled by the lower brain sector. Just watch those simple actions and reactions that a typical newborn child does, right from grasping, crying, kicking, sleeping, moving fingers, rooting, feeding and clasping! They are all controlled by the lower areas of the evolving brain that includes brain stem and upper spinal cord. Strangely, even the visual responses of a baby including eye tracking movements are believed to be controlled by exceptionally efficient visual circuits that occur within the brain stem area. As soon as a baby takes its birth, a pediatrician will conduct some specific tests to check the working patterns of brain. Most possibly the these conducts include baby's eye maneuvers, the “Moro” or startle reflex (baby's clasping action of the arm in response to the sudden movement) or the classical stepping reflex (here, the baby may try to walk when the doctor holds him up with the feet touching the ground which is usually a soft bed surface!). The baby's brain takes some time to develop fully as soon as all neural circuits are streamlined and sequential-zed. Most of the vital bodily functions like breathing, heartbeat, sleeping, gazing, sucking, feeding, swallowing, circulation, crying and clasping are the product of a slowly developing brain. Once these basic functions are finished, the brain tales its own time to develop other critical functions and skills that might stretch over a period of ten to fifteen years.

The most critical period for child brain development is through the womb to fifteen years of life. The entire process involves extreme pruning, shearing and cutting of useless neural circuits and setting up of a highly complex neural centre that assumes the role of a command center later in the life. The time to develop this future command center is still to be assessed as scientists are not certain about the development of primary neural centers. However, the child certainly needs basic and primary responses, reflexes and inputs that can accelerate the functioning of the brain. Mother's role in the formation of baby brain is legendary as she tries to hold, cuddle, and tap baby's back and sides. She is also responsible for all those moments of joy and affection as sweet rhymes, songs and baby talks that usually help the baby in forming basic nerve centers.

In a sense, the brain can never develop completely in its lifetime. Brains, both in children and adults, continue to morph and alter to respond to various challenges of daily life. However, certain issues of brain development are time sensitive and some aspects of brain formation are stopped or leveled off during the development. For example, the formation of billions of neurons starts right during the first six months of gestation. Although, neurons are still produced in the adult life, the quantum is not as large as the ones that we see in the early stages of development. However, the brain size does not increase in the same degree as it is just about one quarter of the size of an adult brain. It is known that it grows to about eighty percent by the age of three and ninety percent by five. The brain growth is compared to that of a tree as a tiny sampling starts to develop slowly to become a big tree. Brain dendrites (equal to hundreds of tree branches) receive brains signals from billions of other brain neurons to streamline almost all basic brain functions.

Child brain is a very complicated organ. A child's well developed during the early stages of the life are the ones that learn very quickly in the later life. You might want to continue to read Amazing Facts about a Child's Brain - Things that Most Parents Never Knew!.



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