Timeline: brain development from birth

Essential brain development occurs in the first years of a child’s life. When you look at the years in which the main brain development is made and the effect this development has in schooling and later years, the importance of positive experiences in the early years is clear.

As a parent or guardian, you can support your child’s early development by providing a safe and nurturing environment with learning opportunities and minimal stress.

Ante-natal Your child’s brain has already started developing. All five senses begin to function before birth. During this time, prenatal sensory experiences help shape the brain and nervous system.

2-6 monthsSignificant ‘wiring’ of the brain occurs in the first years of a child’s life and your baby’s brain is developing as a result of the experiences and relationships they are exposed to each day. Babies learn emotions through observing their parents and caregivers, and how they react to various movements and sounds such as crying, yelling, smiling and cooing.

6-9 months – By nine months your child’s brain has already undergone a rapid growth spurt that helps form connections between what they see, hear, feel and taste. Playtime and interactions with parents and family members provides key learning opportunities for early development.

3 years –By three years of age a child’s brain has around 1000 trillion brain connections (synapses). The early years are a rapid period of brain development which can be fostered by positive relationships with parents and optimal community environments for families and children. Engaging with your child and providing a safe environment and physical care to your child has a significant impact on your child’s development.

3-5years – By school, a child’s brain development is built upon the now solid foundation created in the first five years. It is more difficult for children to take advantage of learning environments, such as school, if they have not had optimal early learning experiences or a nurturing home environment.

Adolescence – When adolescence is reached, brain synapses will number around 500 trillion, a figure that remains relatively steady into adulthood. The brain development prioritises the connections used most often, resulting in ‘pruning’ of the brain networks and circuits.

Image Young children of varying ages play on swing equipment

Published — 19 September 2016 Last updated — 04 September 2018

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