From birth to age five, a child’s brain develops more, and more rapidly, than at any other time in life. While genetics plays a significant role, scientific research has made clear that a child’s experiences – both positive and negative – shape how their brain develops. These experiences have lasting impact on their health and ability to learn and succeed in school and in life.
The human brain is the only organ not fully developed at birth. A newborn baby’s brain is about a quarter of the size of the average adult brain. Incredibly, it doubles in size in the first year and keeps growing to about 80% of adult size by age three, and 90% – nearly full grown – by age five.
A newborn baby has all of the brain cells (neurons) they’ll have for the rest of their life, but what really makes the brain work are the connections (synapses) between those cells. The early years of a child’s life are a crucial time for making those connections. More than one million new neural synapses are made every second, far more than at any other time in life.
Starting from birth, brain connections are built through a child’s everyday experiences – by positive interactions with their parents and caregivers, and by using their senses to interact with the world around them. It’s a young child’s daily experiences – the amount and quality of care, stimulation and interaction they receive in their first days, weeks, months and years – that determines which brain connections develop and will last for a lifetime.
The most important influences on a child’s development are their relationships with the adults in their life. Loving relationships with warm, responsive, dependable adults are essential to a child’s healthy development. These relationships begin at home, with parents and family, but also include child care providers, teachers and other members of the community.