Babies start off as two cells and within 40 short weeks they enter the world with roughly 100 billion brain cells! At that point the focus of their brain development has already shifted from generating more brain cells, to building communication networks between brain cells.
The architecture of every child’s brain is shaped during the first years of his or her life. This happens as the brain is used. Connections develop between brain cells as information from the outside world enters the brain via the senses and the brain tries to make sense of this information and do its very best to direct the child to respond appropriately. In this way, ever bigger and denser networks of connections form over time that enable information to travel between billions of brain cells.
On a greater scale these neural networks connect various regions of the brain to “talk to each other”. Like musicians in an orchestra, every musician needs to practise to be a good musician in his own right, but musicians (different brain regions) also need to practise together in order for them to learn to “feel each other” and eventually perform together well.
Brain cells that are used often are hard-wired into the brain, whilst other, unused brain cells wither away and are pruned away over time. This is nature’s way to adapt to the demands of every child’s world. The brain wires itself in response to the demands of the environment to try and help every child to survive and thrive in his own unique world, with its own challenges and opportunities. Consequently, environments that are rich in brain-building experiences build brains that are rich in brain cell connections. Uninteresting (empty) environments build empty brains.
Early brain development is a matter of “use it or lose it” and “practice makes permanent”. A child’s genetic programming provides a rough framework, but for the most part, what you stimulate is what you get.
By Lizette van Huyssteen
Founder of the Practica Program