You can change the location at any time. The brain development of children of preschool age Sims and Na’ Leah Patawaran listen to Dr. Seuss’ Green Eggs and Ham at Gordon Square Early Learning Center, one of the Centers for Families and Children’s eight Cleveland area early childhood learning centers.
Brains develop quickly from birth to three years, and early experiences, including preschool, can have a big impact on a child’s readiness for kindergarten. CLEVELAND, Ohio — It’s hard to believe, but newborn babies — squalling, red-faced and utterly helpless — actually arrive in the world with remarkably sophisticated brains. Babies are born with just about all the neurons they’ll ever have — about 100 billion of them. Though only one quarter the size, a baby’s brain looks exactly like ours. Over the next three years, that brain triples in size, establishing more than 1,000 trillion intricate and complicated connections between neurons.
Anyone who has cared for a child has witnessed this explosive growth, from that ungainly infant to a running, shouting toddler with a sense of self and opinions to share. This magical and sometimes stressful window of rapid growth, when the brain’s malleability is at its peak, can set the stage for future learning and healthy development throughout life, according to neuroscientists and child development experts. Over the next year, Northeast Ohio Media Group, The Plain Dealer Publishing Co. Ideastream and sponsor PNC Bank, are teaming up on a multimedia effort to spotlight early childhood development, the factors that can hinder it and why it is a critical issue for Greater Cleveland. It’s a time when a lot can go right or wrong for a child, says Charles Nelson, a professor of pediatrics at Boston Children’s Hospital and a steering committee member of Harvard’s Center on the Developing Child. Most aspects of brain development after birth depend on experience occurring during this sensitive period,” he says.
If those experiences don’t happen, “then development can go awry. The longer the brain goes without those critical experiences, the harder it is to recover from that. Our understanding of this sensitive period has helped explain why Romanian orphans raised in institutions with little normal stimulation, children Nelson has researched for more than a decade, can suffer from profound deficits in learning and behavior. It’s also why many can recover if they’re placed in good foster care before too many years have passed. It’s also why there’s so much attention, funding, resources and interventions for low-income children, who are the most likely to suffer neglect, aimed at this time period. Children can learn and grow throughout their lives, but the payoff for heading off trouble early is theoretically the highest, the experts say. The more you put into the baby while the brain is plastic, the more you get out,” says Jerry Silver, a Case Western Reserve University neuroscientist, whether it’s language, reading, or other experiences.
Early on, that interaction is enormously important. From birth to age 3, the brain is primed for learning and growing. But another critical period in brain development occurs much earlier, during the first month in the womb. During that time, Silver says, a complex series of instructions encoded in many, many genes lays out the most basic architecture of the nervous system in the developing fetus. Before many women even know they’re pregnant, many of the critical steps have already occurred: a fuzzy clump of cells in the corner of the uterus line up, form a groove and then close to form a small tube.