Our former co-Director Carol Boyce wrote this wonderful post on brain development, Enjoy!

Our brains are amazing.  Did you know they are the only organ unfinished at birth? They continue to develop through life.  In early childhood the most important task of the brain is to build connections between the 100 billion neurons in the brain.  These connections, called synapses, are created at an astounding rate of about a quadrillion synapses during the first three years of life.  What causes these connections to form or not?  It is the quality of a child’s experiences.  In other words the experiences we give our children actually form their growing brains and determine how they will develop.  So how can we help them reach their full potential?  Brain researchers and educators suggest the following:

            1.  Give children quality experiences in connection rich environments.  This doesn’t mean you have to spend lots of money and go to all the museums and Disney World, though these are good.  At home use multisensory experiences; baking chocolate chip cookies together; playing board games, while eating popcorn around a crackling fire on a cold night; feeling the summer breeze as you chase fireflies and lay in the grass looking up at the stars; hiking through a nature preserve as you look at bugs in the rough bark of a tree, smell a flower, and hear the honk of the geese or the trill of the birds as they return for an Illinois summer.  Make it simple.  Over stimulation, as found in many forms of technology, can actually be detrimental.  Multisensory stimulation, combined with warm personal relationships, heighten and make learning meaningful.  Music and movement experiences help develop patterns as well as language, reduce stress, enhance auditory discrimination used for reading, and generally make us feel happy!  Happiness increases endorphins which enhance memory. 

            2.  Give children time to reflect and provide repetition to strengthen brain connections.  Children need downtime.  They also need to learn that life isn’t always fun, but rewards come from sometimes doing the monotonous work that needs to be done.  Helping fold laundry, putting away toys or groceries, setting the table, or making beds can prepare them to stick with things that aren’t always fun, such as tough subjects in high school.  Children also need to be able to delay gratification.  Being bored is the first step to creativity.  So teach them to wait by increasing the time between “I want” and “I get”.  Instead of technology in the car and restaurant, teach them to wait by talking and playing games with them.

            3.  For maximum brain development, provide your child with adequate rest and healthy nutrition.  The brain needs sleep to restore, clean, and reorganize itself.  It needs diets rich in protein, fatty 3 acids, selenium (meat, nuts, grains, seafood), boron (leafy green vegetables), and water for healthy development.  Children need breakfast, regular meals, and sleep times.  It is up to you to do what is good for them. This is not necessarily the same as what they want, but they’ll thank you later for setting these important limits.

            4.  Finally, the brain needs relationships.  These are the years that trust develops.  Studies show, loving, responsive care is optimum for brain development.  When we look at and listen to our children, when we spend time developing our relationship with them we are not only developing their brains, we are developing loving concern for each other that will last a lifetime.  The brain needs to be taught social skills just as it needs to learn math and reading.    Children need to learn to take turns, share, be a good loser, compromise, compliment others, and say please and thank you.  These social skills will help them build relationships so important to learning and happiness.