Why Brain Development is so Important
One of my colleagues recently asked me what year was the most critical for young children and why? When we speak of a given year as being “critical”, naturally, in childhood, every year is critical, with the earlier years being more critical simply because it is in the early years that the child gains the ability, confidence, and sense of self-worth with which to deal with adversity in the later years! It is hard to argue with the premise that the first three years of life are the most critical of all, if for no other reason than the fact that seventy-five percent of total brain growth and development takes place during that period! Interestingly, within that three-year period, the second and third years differ significantly from the first year in that the parents must now begin putting intelligent input into their nurturing. In the first year, the infant is still in a semi-fetal stage, where sheer physical survival is the issue at hand. At this stage, simple generic nurturing consisting of feeding, protection, and loving attention is enough.
In the second and third years, the infant is already transforming from this semi-fetal creature into the thinking and feeling human being that he has the potential of becoming. This puts extraordinary demands on the parents to put some real thought into what they are doing! For the parents of toddlers, it is important to understand that brain growth depends on more than just the nutrients the brain receives in the blood steam. Countless studies show that actual physical brain development is enhanced by the child living in an environment that is both intellectually stimulating and emotionally nourishing. How important is it that we provide this environment? Considering this toddler will be a fully fledged human being, and a vital member of society and of our own family, it is one of the most important things in the world! Here are some suggestions on how to promote healthy brain development in two- and three-year-olds: 1) Physical Development: Good Nutrition and Exercise. As soon the child is weaned from the breast, he should receive the best nutrition possible. This means ample raw fruit and vegetables prepared in the most appealing recipes possible, making good use of the blender (e.g. fresh fruit and berry slushes) and the food processor so that their undeveloped little mouths can take it in. Commercial baby foods in cans and jars are generally overcooked and overpriced. Ample exercise can best be provided by play, play, and more play! Sand boxes, jungle gyms, and playground equipment are always a hit, in addition to just running and playing with other children. 2) Intellectual Development: Teaching and Play. If presented properly, the learning experience and play are indistinguishable to the child. Everything to the child is fun and discovery. Learning to recognize letters of the alphabet in a colorful book is just as much fun as playing in a sand box. Providing the basic “can’t-miss” toys such as balls, building blocks, musical toys, dolls for girls, etc. is a must. To the child, everything is new and wonderful! (It is helpful if the caring adults think back on their own childhood experience!). 3) Emotional Development: Loving and Being Loved by Others. There is no limit to the amount of love and caring attention that parents can give their children at this age. The child’s future ability to love others is dependent on him loving his parents and loving himself, a state of affairs that is must be achieved in this period of life!