Happily, the brain is much more generous with most aspects of development than the rest of the body. With a series of critical and sensitive periods clustered from birth to around age ten or twelve, some windows of opportunity open early, while others open relatively late. The more you understand about the optimal times for development, the more you will be able to help your child’s brain get the stimulation it is seeking. Here are some of the key developmental windows in young children
Social Attachment (0 – 18 months)
From the day your child is born, her brain is primed to build a strong emotional bond with those people who provide her with consistent loving care. Without positive social experiences during her first eighteen months, the ability to develop secure, trusting relationships becomes much less likely. Stress hormones affecting the area of the brain called the limbic system are thought by many scientists to be the culprit. Whatever the underlying mechanisms, it’s already clear that the emotional foundations she builds during these early years will strongly influence her relationships throughout her life.
Motor Skills (Prenatal – 4 years)
It is obvious as soon as a baby is born that his motor skills have already begun their developmental journey. As is equally obvious, much more must be accomplished before the child will be running, jumping, climbing, or riding a bike. Fortunately, since so much motor development must occur, the brain is also quite forgiving when stimulation is not forthcoming during the optimal time. For example, babies in some cultures are carried on cradleboards during their first year or two, yet they learn to walk easily once given the opportunity to practice.
Speech and Vocabulary (0 – 3 years)
A child’s first three years are his most important for learning language. The more language he hears, the larger his vocabulary will be throughout his childhood and adulthood. In addition, what kind of talk he hears makes a difference. It is language spoken directly to a child during this language learning period that is most effective in building strong circuitry to support vocabulary growth and proficient language skills. This back-and-forth experience, by the way, is something no infant will experience while sitting in front of a television set.
Math and Logic (1 – 4 years)
Between the ages of one and four, children develop the capacity to understand logic and mathematical concepts. During this period, stimulating experiences can provide the optimal benefit. Stacking blocks and knocking them down, stringing wooden beads, onto a piece of yarn, or counting a row of raisins before eating them one by one are all experiences that help a child become a skilled mathematical and logical thinker. Children whose opportunities are limited during this stage are more likely to fall behind their peers in school and will have to work extra hard to catch up later on.
Music (3 – 12 years)
Infant enjoy listening to music from birth, and by the time they are toddlers, they are enthusiastically dancing to the radio and singing songs. Playing a musical instrument, however, must wait until eye-hand coordination is sufficiently developed, around age three. But is there an upper boundary? Based on the few data available to date, some researchers suspect that the optimal window for learning to play an instrument begins to close around ten to twelve years. According to the theory, although adults can still learn to play an instrument, they are unlikely to develop the solid neural foundations necessary to become virtuosos. Although the final work isn’t in on the validity of this theory, there’s no doubt that the earlier one learns to play a musical instrument, the more years are available to hone the skill and to enjoy making music.