4 Stages of Brain Development
While brain maturation is a continuous process there are four major milestones. The child sees the world is differently in each stage, and so you as a parent need to respond in a different way. The stages listed below give the approximate years and brain maturation for each stage. The years are an average. Individual children may develop faster or slower, but it is always in this sequence.
STAGE 1: From ages 0 – 3 there is a period of neural exuberance in which there are 24 million connections made every minute. At age 3, the cortex of the child is twice as thick as an adult’s. Sensory areas are myelinated and the motor areas are beginning to myelinate.
STAGE 2: From ages 4 – 9 the high level of connections between your child’s brain allows them to quickly learn language, rules, how to work in groups. Motor and sensory areas are fully myelinated.
STAGE 3: From ages 10-17 synaptic pruning begins. The child will lose 1-2% of connections each year. The teen has every brain area to see and respond to the world developed, accept for the frontal areas that foresee consequences..
STAGE 4: From ages 18 – 25 synaptic connections become stable and frontal connections almost finish myelinating. This time is called “emergent adulthood”
Since the brain is the interface between us and the world. These major milestones in brain maturation color your child’s world. Your child’s brain type will be consistent, but will be expressed differently as brain circuits mature.
Nature and Nurture Combine to Shape Brain Circuits
Nature and nurture work together to develop brain connections. The rate and extent of neural exuberance and neural pruning is affected by the availability and quality of food, the level of stress, and the types of experiences children are exposed to. Daily experience sets the stage for lifelong learning, influencing which neural circuits are reinforced in the brain. Reading a book to your child, or giving them opportunities for specific physical activities, or allowing them to play and interact with other children, strengthen specific brain areas. For example, research shows that early verbal interactions affect both vocabulary and the ability to do well in school.
This information comes with a warning. It doesn’t mean that you should inundate your child or newborn with foreign language, music, sports, or any other lessons. Young children learn best when following their own natural tendencies and curiosity. Kids learn through play. Stress and pressure actually inhibit the brain’s ability to learn. It is important that your child’s daily experiences are balanced and natural, enabling them to try things over and over again, and allowing them to learn from their playful “mistakes.” As a caring adult, you can and should provide both structure and love to an eager child, and by understanding how and when the child’s brain develops, you can create a much more positive influence in their lives.