At birth your baby’s brain is approximately 25% of the size of an adult’s brain and by the age of three your child’s brain will be 80% of its full size. As you can see there is a large and rapid brain growth in those precious first few years.
Brain development starts within the womb. Just two weeks after conception a baby’s brain will start to develop and by four months a baby will be able to suck, swallow, “breathe,” stretch, and even suck their thumb! By about the 28th week in utero the nervous system is mature enough to support life. During the 29th-38th week interconnections between each individual nerve cell (neurones) develop rapidly. However, a baby is born with a brain that is hard-wired just for survival, i.e. respiration, digestion and excretion.
How the Brain Develops
The brain develops from the inside outwards. The outer layer, the cortex develops last. This is the part of the brain that makes us human. This is the “thinking brain”. At seven months’ gestation neurones begin to develop branches known as dendrites. Each neurone is connected to another at points called synapses. They continue to develop rapidly during the first few years after birth, particularly in the first two years. Every new experience (sight, touch, smell, sound, taste and movement) will create a new brain connection within your growing baby.
The brain has been described as having three levels and these can be associated with our evolutionary development (MacLean 1979)
First Level Reptilian Brain:
- Brain Stem (including the medulla oblongata and the pons) and Reticular formation
- Control basic need of life (breathing, heart rate, body temperature, suckling and muscle tone) plus maintaining consciousness and arousal
- Tiny babies’ movements can be seen to be quite reptilian when they are first born
- Brain stem is thought to be the most ancient part of our brain
Second Level Mammalian Brain
- Mid brain which includes the pons, the basal ganglia, the cerebellum, and the thalamus and hypothalamus (these last two form the limbic system)
- Connects the brain stem to the thinking part of the brain the cortex
- Babies during this stage will exhibit many mammalian movements and will learn these new skills in order: rolling, crawling, sitting, creeping and pulling up to standing
- Midbrain controls emotions and instincts (limbic system), organization of activities (basal ganglion), control of huger, thirst, temperature (hypothalamus) and the cerebellum controls our movement.
Third Level Human Brain
- Cortical brain which allows us to be able to stand and move independently, to use our hands and learn to assimilate information and memories, and eventually learn to organise and act upon them.
- Eventually we become the rational, logical and linguistic animals called homosapiens.
- The cerebral cortex includes two cerebral hemispheres (sometimes referred to as the “right brain” and “left brain”) connected by the corpus callosum. Each hemisphere is divided into four lobes: the frontal lobe, the parietal lobe, the occipital lobe, and the temporal lobe.
- The right hemisphere is responsible for the sensing and control of movement on the left handside of the body and the left hemisphere controls the senses and movement on the right. The corpus callosum acts as a telephone exchange allowing information from both sides of the brain to be analysed and acted upon.
- The cortical brain is responsible for all voluntary functions of the brain. When you solve a maths problem, remember someone’s name, or shake someone’s hand, this is the part of the brain you are using. Movement, memory, sensory processing, and language are all controlled by the cerebrum – it is the intellectual part
- It is the least developed at birth.
Why does it grow so rapidly?
Within the first three years of a child’s life the brain does the majority of its growing. A study by the University of Chicago’s Benjamin Bloom concluded that by four most of the IQ is in place and that “general intelligence appears to develop as much from conception to age four as it does during the 14 years from 4-18”
During this period major developmental hurdles will be achieved in a young child’s life:
- Visual Development: a new born baby has limited vision but by three their vision is almost as sophisticated as an adult’s. This process will see huge brain growth with the development of billions of brain connections.
- Gross Motor Development: a reflexive new born baby with no control over their own body will be running and jumping happily by the time they are three. Their vestibular system will be more mature and their muscle tone well developed.
- Fine Motor Skills: the ability to use their hands to manipulate objects is being refined daily
- Language Development – basic biological noises will have been replaced with over 1000 words by the age of three.
- Thinking, logic and problem solving are being developed throughout these three years. This is the process by which the baby begins to become the independent human being. Every day there is something new to be learnt and enjoyed and life is one long adventure.
Baby College classes offer a well balanced mix of activities which stimulate all aspects of a baby’s development and have been meticulously researched and structured to allow progression through the age groups which allows appropriate, fun and gently challenging exercises to enjoyed by all.