The Brain Doesn’t Just Magically Develop. It is Experience Dependent.
The brain is not considered to be fully developed until about the age of 25. This fact is sometimes quite surprising to many parents and professionals who have either a direct or indirect influence on children. Even though brain maturity is slower than most people realize, it is essential to recognize that the greatest time of development occurs in the years prior to kindergarten, with the most robust growth taking place in the first 1,000 days of a child’s life. By age three, a significant amount of the core structures of the brain are formed. This rapid development happens at a rate of more than 1 million connections per second, and this development is dependent on experiences.
“Early experiences affect the development of brain architecture, which provides the foundation for all future learning, behavior, and health. Just as a weak foundation compromises the quality and strength of a house, adverse experiences early in life can impair brain architecture, with negative effects lasting into adulthood.” - Harvard Center on the Developing Child
Because the brain is primarily dependent on after-birth experiences for growth and development, we are fortunate in two ways. One, this provides us with the opportunity to provide babies and children with the most optimal experiences for well-being in life. And two, scientific brain research provides us with invaluable knowledge as to the types of life experiences that are most needed.
The brain grows in a sequential fashion, from the least complex functioning “survival areas,” to the most complex “thinking areas.” Though the most complex areas are the last to complete development, experiences in the early months and years of a child’s life have a significant impact on the way these most essential brain areas make crucial connections. To develop the higher functioning brain areas, secure, responsive, respectful, and predictably nurturing relationships are crucial. Humans are biologically dependent on relationships.
“We ignore the emotional needs of young children at our peril.” - Bruce D. Perry
When the brain feels a sense of trust and security, it is then able to relax and is ready to learn. This security is essential to establish right from birth, preparing the brain for learning, self-regulation, critical thinking, resiliency, empathy, problem-solving, and cultivating relationships with others. Beginning with a newborn, it is essential that physical and security needs are met and nurturing interaction and play is consistently provided every day. This is Neuro-Nurturing®.
The Brain Insights company was created to provide a clear awareness and a full understanding of how all adults can contribute to helping children thrive. Over the years, Brain Insights has found it to be extremely valuable and inspiring when adults better understand what contributes to healthy brain development. However, it was realized that the term ‘early brain development’ doesn’t wholly and adequately encompass and convey all that children need and all that every adult can provide. Far too frequently, the term ‘brain development’ is perceived as too scientific and is only viewed in relation to intelligence building or academic knowledge, rather than supporting the overall blossoming of the whole child as a beautifully unique individual with a positive self-perception.
Though this information has been shared by Brain Insights and countless other professionals for numerous years, most adults are still unaware of what children need to foster optimal flourishing. Due to the critical needs that our society (and today’s youth) have for a greater understanding and broader awareness for how we can support and implement optimum development, it was recognized that a new term was desperately needed. As a result of a conversation on this concern, Brain Insights trademarked the term, Neuro-Nurturing®. And in early 2019, the accompanying Neuro-Nurturing Circle of Potential Model™ was created to move the world toward the wonderful outcomes that children deserve.
The Circle of Potential Model
The design of the model is circular because each element overlaps and complements one another. Each aspect of the model influences and affects other aspects fostering optimal overall development.
It is, of course, critical that physical needs, loving experiences, and safety and security are provided. In addition to meeting those indispensable needs, children must also have appropriate and abundant opportunities to play. Babies and children need to experience things for themselves and ultimately feel the sense of accomplishment that goes along with completing tasks independently. To support this, adults need to allow (not force) enough time for children to try things repeatedly at their own pace through play. Repeated experiences create strong connections and form crucial brain pathways.
Time for independent trial and error is extremely valuable. Children also need someone available to help and encourage them when things get overwhelming. Furthermore, children need someone who can help them through the uncertainty of new situations and the feelings of overpowering emotions.
“When little people are overwhelmed by big emotions, it's our job to share our calm, not join their chaos.” - L.R. Knost
Children feel comfortable and develop a continued sense of excitement toward learning when caring adults provide lots of play that affords available support, nurturing responsiveness, and appropriate stimulation. Play is simply how a developing brain learns.
Due to the extremely rapid growth in the early years, the brains of babies, toddlers, and preschool children are especially vulnerable to experiences and their environment. They will therefore continually adapt to what they are exposed to most frequently. Environments that are chaotic, unpredictable, disorderly, or highly stressful can leave a direct negative influence on the development of the brain.
“The experiences of early life have the profound ability to shape the infant, child, adolescent, and ultimately the adult. Each child has his or her own unique genetic potential, yet this potential is expressed differentially depending upon the nature, timing, and patterns of developmental experience.” – Bruce D. Perry
When early childhood programs or parents replace hands-on learning experiences with academically focused activities or curriculum that emphasizes rote learning and skill performance, this jeopardizes the development of skills for later learning. Academic success, critically important physical abilities, and social-emotional development are all dependent on experiences with real objects and interactions with people, not worksheets and screens.
“Play gives children the chance to practice what they are learning.” – Fred Rogers
Neuro-Nurturing® provides the realization that environments that are indispensable for a child’s development provide loving responsiveness, adequate amounts of sleep, healthy nutrition, a lack of chaos, and safe opportunities to learn through movement, imaginative play with hands-on exploration, and lots of time in nature. Through these supports, children test new experiences in a relaxed setting, then naturally relate it to existing knowledge and ultimately store the new information. Through this process they begin to feel confident in their abilities and develop a very healthy self-perception.
“A person is a person, no matter how small.” – Dr. Seuss
Children naturally want to explore, spin, yell, pretend, run, pour, skip, create, imagine, hear stories, pound, throw, squish, hop, enjoy music, receive hugs, and figure out the world. In other words, they do exactly what their growing brains need. Understanding adults just need to provide plenty of wonderful opportunities for all of this to occur and not get in the way… And always provide vital nurturing support when needed.
To join those of us that want to make Neuro-Nurturing actually happen for children go to the Neuro-Nurturing for the World page!