“They grow so fast,” is a common phrase parents of newborns and toddlers hear often. This is a true statement not just for their physical growth but their mental and developmental growth as well. Did you know that by the end of age 3, a child’s brain will have completed 85% of its physical growth? In these handful of years, the brain strengthens many of the areas of the brain that a child will need throughout their lifetime.
The brain is made-up of the neurons which broadcast messages using electrical and chemical signals. The connections between neurons are called synapses. These messages are the physical basis of learning and memory and are what build a baby’s brain. What the brain does is create a surplus of synapses and neurons, twice as many synapses as it will have in adulthood.
Throughout childhood and adolescence, a process called pruning takes place. The process involves keeping synapses that are used often and that are strong while removing synapses that are weak or rarely used. An example would be if a child hears language and conversation often, the language area of their brain strengthens and grows. If a child is rarely spoken to or hears most of their vocabulary and language from a screen, that area weakens and does not develop to its full potential. Genes provide a blueprint for the brain, but a child’s environment and experiences carry out the construction.
This construction and pruning process is why it is so important to talk, read and sing with your child from the very beginning of their lives. Hearing your voice, taking in the sounds and words around them allow them to build that language area of their brain. Strengthening their vocabularies and literacy skills will be essential for their success later on in their lives.
In 1995, Betty Hart and Todd R. Risely conducted a study that found children from low-income families will have heard 30 million less words than children from more affluent families by the age of four. They are not hearing words and are not using the language area of their brain which in turn means the brain is likely to prune those synapses, weakening that area. This is a process not easily reversed. This gap creates a serious disadvantage for children, a disadvantage that will follow them throughout their lives.
Bridging the gap and strengthening these synapses is not a herculean effort. It does not take expensive equipment or extra schooling. It is actually something that can be done easily and every day; talking with your child. Talking, singing and reading may seem like simple tasks but they are simple tasks that can make all the difference.
By talking with your child each day, while driving, cooking or getting ready in the morning, you are strengthening that vital part of their brain. You don’t have to have long complicated conversations. Simply describing how you are cutting up a banana for breakfast or what color the street signs you are driving by are, utilizes these synapses. Reading a book before bed and singing while cooking dinner also increase use of these vital areas of the brain.
The first few years of a child’s life are essential for development. All parents want their children to succeed. One way to ensure this future success is by making sure that a child’s environment will aid their brain development. You feed your child nutritious food to help their bodies grow. Their brains need the same care and nutrition, provided through daily interactions. Adding talking, singing and reading to your everyday routine will help strengthen these vital areas of the brain.
This year we are working to increase awareness about the 30 million word gap and share ways to close it. Be sure to follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram as well as follow #wordgapcle to stay up to date on what we are doing and to learn more about the word gap and to promote the power of parent talk. Also be sure to share how you are working to build your child’s brain. Share pictures or videos of you reading or singing together with #wordgapcle. Help us spread awareness and show that it is possible to begin to close the gap.
(Article used for information in this post: http://www.urbanchildinstitute.org/why-0-3/baby-and-brain)