Early childhood is the most and rapid period of development in a human life. The years from conceptions through birth to eight years of age critical to the complete and healty cognitive, emotional and physical growth of children.
A Child’s brain develops in response to both genes and the environtment. It is the interaction between the genes and the environtment that really shape the developing brain, a dance between biology and experience.While the gene provide the initial map for development, it is the experiences and relationships babies and children have every day that literally shape their brains. Families have an extremely important ongoing influence on children’s development. The community and service environtments in which children and families interact also play a key role in supporting optimal development.
The rapid development of children’s brains begin in the prenatal stage and continous after birth. Although cell formation is virtually complete before birth, a new born baby has about a 100 billion brain cells, brain maturation, and important neural pathway and connections are progressively developed after birth in early childhood. Therefore, early childhood is a period in development where environtment actually has important impact on determaining how the brain and the central nervous system grows and develops, Environtment affects not only the number of the brain cells and the number of connections among them but also the way these connections are “wired”. The process of eliminating excess neurons and synapses from the dense, immature brain, which continues well into adolescence, is most dramatic in the early yeras of life, and it is guided to large extent by the child’s sensory experience of the outside world. Scientific evidence suggest that if the brain doesn’t receive the appropriate stimulation during this criticalwindow, it is very difficult for the brain to rewire itself at a later time.
Genes provide the initial map for brain development, beginning with the basic connections in the brain from birth. Significance wiring occurs during the first years of a child’s life and this effectively programs child development. At three, a child has around 1000 trillion brain connections or synapses, which in later development are selectively pruned. When adolescence is reached, brain synapses will number around 500 trillion, and this number remains relatively stable into adulthood, The prunning of brain synapses indicates the tremendous influence experience and environtment play in shaping a young brain. It is the experiences and relationships that infants and young children have that continuosly develop their brains and build the neural circuits that will be the foundation for later development. New research in an area called epigenetics, even suggest that a person’s genes can potentially develop in response to some environtmental factors.
Inadequate nutrition before birth and in the first years of life can seriously interfere with brain development and lead to such a neurological and behavioral disorders as learning disabilities and mental retardation. There is considerable evidence showing that infants exposed to good nutritions, and adequate psychosocial stimulation had measurably better brain function at twelve years of age than those raised in less stimulating environtment,
Stress is a feature of the normal development of positive and adaptive coping. Everyday stress responses of a moderate and brief nature can result in mild increases of hormone levels (cortisol) and short-lived increases in heart rate. These kinds of tolerable stress responses help in the development of adaptive coping when buffered by stable and supportive relationships and are an important part of healthy development.
Excessive or long -lasting stress is known as toxic stress and can have negative impact on brain development. Example of toxic stress include: physical or sexual abuse, neglect or lack of affection, parental mental illness, family violence, poverty and lack of adequate housing. Ongoing stress factors that are not buffered bay caring and positive relationships disrupt brain architecture leading to a lower treshold of activation of the stress management system, which in turn can lead to life long problems in learning , behaviour, and both physical and mental health,
Although manageable levels of stress are normal and growth promoting, toxic stress in the early years can damage brain development. It is in situations where ongoing stress is likely, that intervening as early as possible is critical to achieving the best possible outcomes for the child, Caring and positive relationships are essential to ensure stress levels promote resilience for babies and children.
The architecture of the brain (the neural circuits) is built in a hierarchical “bottom-up” sequence. This means the foundation is paramount, as higher level circuits are built on lower level ones. Each newly acquired skill aides in the sequential development of the next, Attaining the more complex and higher order skills becomes much more difficult when the foundation is shaky. As the foundations are built upon, brain circuits stabilise making them much harder to change and this highlights the importance of getting them right the first time, Positive early experiences result in optimal brain development, which in turn provides the foundation for the other skills and abilities children need for succes at school and for life.
These are critical periods, or “prime times” for various aspects of brain development. The brain is programmed for events and experiences to happen at particular times for the best wiring and brain development. For example, language developments depends on adequate hearing and if hearing loss is not diagnosed at an early age and the brain can not receive the sounds that lead to language development, the language part of the brain begin to “close up”. The quality of child’s earliest environtments and the availability of appropriate expereiences at the right stages of development are crucial to brain development and the foundation for learning in later life,