by michael on June 1, 2011

I have met fascinating people on Twitter from around the world. One of them is Deborah McNelis, an expert in brain research and a passionate children’s educator. Deborah sent this fascinating and inspiring essay. I share it with you.

The Quality of Early Experiences Shape Children’s Brain Development
Isn’t it wonderful when you get simple information that can make a big difference? I find it is particularly fantastic when the information assists us in understanding what is best for children. Scientific brain research provides this.

Sometimes the concept of brain development appears to be too complicated or overwhelming. But, what if I told you optimal brain development can occur very easily through every day experiences?

It is extremely exciting to have technology providing the study of the brain, like we’ve never seen before. Scientific research demonstrates that a child’s early development is determined by the environment and experiences, rather than genetics alone. For us to provide the best for children, we must understand how a child’s brain develops.
…..And it isn’t complicated!

Early Experiences Wire a Brain

While the brain continues to make connections throughout life, the experiences children receive in the early years of life are crucial to overall brain development. When a child has an experience, connections are formed between brain cells. The cells are dependent on experience to create these connections. For example, after eight months a child exposed to a nurturing and stimulating environment may already have 1,000 trillion connections created. These connections physically grow and develop the brain. It is primarily the early experiences that largely determine the basic strength and function of the brain’s wiring system. It is that simple!

Warm and consistent parents who talk to their children, and provide fun interactive learning experiences, promote healthy brain development. It is so refreshing for many parents and educators to learn that beyond meeting a child’s basic needs for comfort, safety and good nutrition, all that a developing brain needs most is loving interaction and play. All of these experiences create the base for self regulation and the development of the highest thinking areas of the brain.

Because the brain develops based on experience, a young child’s brain will adapt to a negative environment just as easily as it will adapt to a positive environment. Prolonged, severe, or unpredictable stress-including abuse and neglect-during a child’s early years can result in negative impacts on the child’s physical, cognitive, emotional, and social growth. Babies who do not receive consistent responses to their cries, and those whose cries are met with abuse, develop brain connections to prepare them to cope in that environment. As a result their ability to learn and respond to nurturing and kindness may be impaired.

It is Repetition That Makes Strong Connections.

The brain organizes through a “use it or lose it” process. The brain both eliminates and strengthens connections in an effort to become more efficient. So, experiences that are repeated frequently lead to brain connections that are retained.

Connections that are not used often due to lack of repeated experience are eliminated. This is how a child’s brain adapts to the experiences in daily life. Consistency is key to this process. The brain feels comfortable when it knows what to expect. When children learn through repetition, that their needs will be met, they can relax and feel safe. Loving interaction, adequate amounts of sleep, healthy nutrition, time playing outdoors, physical activity, lots of creative play, and exploration that includes all of the senses contributes to a very healthy brain.

We ALL Benefit
Through understanding how quality experiences impact brain development we can make a real difference. This is what children want ALL of the adults in their lives to know. It is my passion to make this common knowledge.

We cannot afford to ignore this information any longer. Each of us can have an important role in making this happen for all children. Now that you know, tell everyone how easy it is to positively wire a brain.

By Deborah McNelis, M. S. Ed. Owner/Creator of braininsights®
Award winning author of The Brain Development Series and Naturally Developing Young Brains.

For further information or interaction activity ideas go to:

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Jeff June 4, 2011 at 8:57 pm

Makes you wish you could go back to when your kids were babies and do it all over again in a different way. 🙂 The brain has plasticity and is able to constantly change and make new connections over time but it is still the early years that form the foundation for everything to come later in life. It almost seems like sometimes schools have gotten away from the repetition that is important and move on too quickly to new ideas. We can still practice repetition at home.


Barbara Boucher, PhD June 8, 2011 at 2:15 am

Well said, Deborah. I have several posts that speak to the same topic(s) on my blog, TherExtras. Click on my name and see the links under “For All Parents” in the right column.


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