Oh My Synapses: The Cognitive Development of Young Children

“A mind is a terrible thing to waste.” -United Negro College Fund.  Never make the mistake of believing that a child isn’t learning at any point in his/her life.  The Cognitive Development of a child begins even before they grace the world with their presence.  Cognitive Development (CD) is the umbrella term for how the mind learns and processes information it obtains.  For the purpose of this essay I will be homing in on Early Brain Development through eight-years-old.

Early Brain Development (EBD) is the period of time from conception to around the third birthday of “potential” growth of which the skies the limit where learning is concerned.  It is during this time that a child learns how to  walk, how to talk, and even how they “fit-in” to society’s structurization.  Now of course the child doesn’t understand that he/she/them is a part of a bigger picture but what the child does do is observe, retain, and prune through the information and/or experiences.  Between conception and the 17th week of pregnancy, the fetus has developed over 1 billion brain cells, neurons.  Neurons are responsible for communicating messages in the brain and from the brain to the body.  After birth, the brain produces synapses, the connection point between the neurons, at a rapid rate causing them to be more numerous and dense, synaptogenesis.  During this mass production more synapses than needed are created.  “This may be nature’s way of preparing children for many of the potential environments in which they may live.” reported Jack P. Shonkoff and Deborah A. Phillips in their book “From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development.”

When there are so many synapses present, not all are being used at one time.  In order to keep valuable information and still have room for the new information the brain goes through a process of Pruning.  Pruning is the decrease in synapses density.  Lifelong, pruning is always in full effect not destroying memories or life lesson -unlike the Spongebob Squarepants episode where the pruning goes way overboard when Spongebob deletes everything in his mind except for breathing and fine dining.  No instead proper pruning is done by taking the neurons that are not being used and decreasing their synapse connection, synapse density.

With unused neurons available for storage and the child forever evolving, room opens up for language development and communication techniques. Language development in the first three years is important because from birth the child is creating and forming connections through the world around him/her.  Language is fundamental in how/ whether a child will have the proper ability to interact effectively.  During language development it is imperative that adults and caregivers converse with the child. Through these repetitive conversations infants and toddlers’ brains are able to connect the correlation

In order to advance children’s Cognitive Development some activities or experiences that help further growth are reading to the child with excitement.  By reading to children with excitement their minds recognize reading as a fun way to learn the correlation between words heard and words spoken; potentially resulting in the child’s first word and a love for reading.  Another activity that adds great value into a child’s development is music.  Music has been known to be influential way to not only be a way on spearheading a great relationship between parent and child but also as a means of expression.  Children brought up with music as a tool of learning have better engagement of memory, imagination, and language, higher self-confidence, and have heightened physical coordination.  Cognitive Development for children and adults is a many splendored thing.  Where there is an opportunity to learn there is always an opportunity for growth.

 

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