JOHN BAYLOR: It’s been said that:
the human brain itself is the next great frontier in scientific progress.
On an almost daily basis, neuroscientists, biomedical researchers, and even engineers are opening up vast new horizons in our understanding of how the brain works.
Entire new technologies are now being invented to map the brain, treat diseases and injuries that afflict us at the neurological level and increase our capacity for learning.
Among the most exciting advances in this field is our understanding of how the brain forms in the earliest years of life. Young children create neuro-connections at an astonishing rate.
And according to neuroscientists, the strength and resiliency of these connections or circuits depend on the quality of children’s learning experiences as infants, toddlers, and pre-schoolers.
When those neuro-circuits are strong and robust, children are better able to acquire and master the skills they’ll need to thrive in school and beyond.
On the national level, more and more attention is being given to early brain development as a critical window of opportunity for starting kids off on the path of success.
Researchers, educators, policymakers, and even business leaders are looking to this period in a human life cycle as the bedrock for building strong school systems, increasing graduation rates, and even spurring economic growth.
But just how crucial is this stage in brain development and skill formation.
What kinds of factors can throw this developmental process off track and who’s responsibility is it to ensure very young children that they experience they need to grow up capable, confident, and ready for success.
let’s take a look at the basic architecture of the brain constructed through a process that begins early in life and continues into adulthood.
of life have a lasting impact on the architecture of the developing brain.
Genes provide the basic blueprint, but experiences shape the process that determines whether a child’s brain will provide a strong or weak foundation for all future learning, behavior, and health.
During this important period of brain development, billions of brain cells called neurons send electrical signals to communicate with each other.
These connections form circuits that become the basic foundation of brain architecture. Circuits and connections proliferate at a rapid pace and are reinforced through repeated use.
Our experiences and environment dictate which circuits and connections get more use. Connections that are used more grow stronger and more permanent.
Meanwhile, connections that are used less fade away through a normal process called pruning.
Well-used circuits create lightning-fast pathways for neural signals to travel across regions of the brain.
Simple circuits form first, providing a foundation for more complex circuits to build on later.
Through this process, neurons form strong circuits and connections for emotions, motor skills, behavioral control, logic, language, and memory during the early critical period of development.
With repeated use, these circuits become more efficient and connect to other areas of the brain more rapidly.
While they originate in specific areas of the brain, the circuits are interconnected. You can’t have one type of skill without the other to support it.
Like building a house, everything is connected, and what comes first forms a foundation for all that comes later.