By Ollwyn Moran, Child Development Expert

 

Did you know that by the time a child is 3-years old their brain will have created and formed more than 1,000 trillion connections? This is actually twice the amount of brain connections that adults have. This is because the developing brain initially creates more connections than they will ever need and then refines what they ultimately store in their brain, by only keeping the connections that are most regularly used.

I am sure that you have heard the phrase – “Use it or lose it”. Well, if a neural or brain connection that has been created is not used or stimulated enough it will actually be lost. From the time they are born, children develop new brain connections through their everyday sensory experiences and through the positive interactions they have with their parents and caregivers.

A young child’s daily experiences determine which brain connections develop, which ones they will eventually lose and those that will last for a lifetime. This is why engaged play during the first 3-years of a child’s life is so important! If you are unsure how best to play with your child at each age and stage, you can join the Clever Tots Toy Club where you will be provided with developmentally stimulating and age-appropriate toys. Each member will also receive a guide on ‘Ways to Play’ designed to bring out the best in your child through engaged play according to their age.

At birth, only a small part of the brain is actually hard-wired to the body. These are the physical essential survival bodily functions like the heartbeat, breathing, reflexes, and more. The rest of the brain is ready and waiting to be wired through neural connections based on the baby’s everyday experiences.

As parents and caregivers, you’re probably wondering how you can support the wiring of your child’s brain. Research has shown us that brain growth and activity occurs through stimulation and input. So, when a brain connection is formed and used repeatedly in the early years, pathways become wired and embedded in the brain.

Here is an example of what this looks like in practice with a developing baby. We all have some experience of playing with a little one where you pass them a toy to hold and they drop it, then wait for you to pick it up and pass it back to them, only for them to drop it again! With weaning babies this could be with the spoon they are using for feeding themselves that gets dropped, picked up by mum or dad, only for it to be dropped again. The little one gets great fun out of it and more often than not, a parent becomes frustrated with this little lesson of cause and effect.

Believe it or not, this exercise is actually facilitating some critical wiring of the brain and body. It is essentially brain-wiring in action. The repeated movements wire the gross motor physical actions and allow a stronger connection to be created. The movements become more streamlined and sophisticated as the child repeats the take, hold, and drop action with the object. This is in contrast to the initial jerky arm movements your little one had starting out this exercise.

It is important to know that input and stimulation must occur with both sides of the body so that there is symmetry in your child’s left and right brain development and connections. As a parent you can support your little one when playing these games or engaging in these activities by making sure to pass the object to a different hand each time you give it back.

The opposite side of the brain controls the opposite side of the body. And contrary to popular belief, your child will not develop a preferred hand until about 4-years old, so it is vital to keep both sides of the body equally stimulated. Play truly is the work of children. Engaged play helps our young children to develop their physical gross and fine motor skills, as well as their social, emotional, and cognitive world.

Research tells us that a child who is rarely played with may have difficulty with social adjustment as they grow. This is because a young child’s brain thrives on the feedback from its environment. The brain actually wires itself into an emotional organ from its experiences. For example, a baby whose communicative little ‘coos’ are positively met with smiles and responses, is more likely to develop the connections needed to become emotionally responsive to others. The best way to wire and develop a baby’s brain is to be responsive to their social, emotional, and physical cues within a safe environment that provides interest, enrichment, and creates curiosity that babies will want to explore.

Play and playing with your child is the best way to provide this incredible foundation.

In fact, play is so critically important to optimal child development that it has been recognised by the United Nations (UN) High Commission for Human Rights as a fundamental right of every child. Play is more than just fun and games, it helps children learn about themselves and the world around them. Play allows children to explore different interests and passions, it also encourages interactions like sharing and socialisation to help develop social-emotional skills.

Play is the very foundation upon which your child will develop important life skills too. The early years are the best opportunity for a child’s brain to develop the connections they need to be healthy, capable, successful adults. It is during early childhood play, that the vital brain connections needed for the development of many important life skills including motivation, self-regulation, problem-solving and communication are formed.

 

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