Understanding how a child’s brain develops and what you can do to foster that development is important for all parents. While we can’t control the nature part of a child’s development, we can provide a nurturing environment to enhance what’s already been established.
Nature vs. Nurture
There has long been a debate surrounding the question of which influence is more significant: nature or nurture. The answer? Well, both are important and essential. A child’s genes–the nature component–are responsible for the blueprint of the wiring in the brain. Your genes are responsible for all of the cells developed along with the wiring between the regions of the brain. The child’s environment–the nurture component–is what fine tunes the wiring. The experiences a child has will strengthen existing connections and allow those that are not reinforced to fade away. This process is called pruning.
While pruning sounds frightening, to a child who is developing in a stimulus-rich environment, it’s actually a good thing. The loss of some of those unused connections allows a child’s remaining connections to work more efficiently and effectively.
What is the Critical Window?
Scientists don’t think there is a critical window for every brain function. But for some areas, there is a definite window that allows greater opportunity for learning and development. Language and vision are two areas where there is such a critical window. If a child is born with visual impairments–such as a lazy eye–that are not corrected, that child may not develop depth perception, and his vision may not reach full acuity. Likewise, language development can be severely hindered if a child is not exposed to sounds, words and language patterns at an early age.
What Can I Do?
We all want to give our children the brightest future–and nurturing their developing brains is certainly included. How do we do that? Chances are, you’re doing it already.
Expose your child to as many activities, experiences and situations as you can. Take your son to the grocery store, to a museum, the zoo or the park. Bring your daughter to a ballet, a baseball game and the post office. All new experiences will help enhance the connections that are already established.
Focus on reading to your child, engaging him in conversations and word games. Play games that focus on coloring, writing, drawing and experimenting with letters, sounds and shapes. Get out the Play-Doh. Encourage him to put on a puppet show, sing songs, build forts. Play with him. Expose him to new ideas and experiences, and watch him learn!