Baby's Brain: Ten Myths
By Diane Bales, Ph.D.
scientists learn more...many of our old
ideas about the brain are being challenged."
scientists learn more about how the human brain develops, many of
our old ideas about the brain are being challenged. We now know
that a babys brain is not completely wired at birth. The basic
brain cells exist at birth, but most of the connections among cells
are made during infancy and childhood.
are some common myths about brain development:
happens before birth does not affect learning. Poor nutrition and
exposure to drugs and alcohol can lead to serious problems in brain
development even before birth. A developing fetus needs adequate
nutrition to develop properly. If the fetus does not receive enough
folic acid early in development, certain neural birth defects can
happen. A fetus exposed to alcohol or other drugs before birth may
not develop normally. If the mother drinks alcohol during pregnancy,
the baby is at risk for developing Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS).
Babies with FAS tend to have heart problems and be hyperactive.
And most FAS babies have below-normal intelligence.
brain is completely developed at birth. Most of the brain's cells
are formed before birth. But the cells actually make most of their
connections with other cells during the first 3 years of life. And
even after age 3, the brains structure continues to change
as connections are refined based on experience.
development is completely genetic. Early experience is very important
in brain development. The baby's day-to-day experiences help decide
how her brain cells will connect to each other. And if the baby
does not have certain kinds of experiences, some areas of the brain
will not make the necessary connections. Babies born with severe
cataracts may never see clearly--especially if the cataracts remain
for many months--because they could not see clearly as infants.
bigger head is better. Some parents mistakenly think that children
with bigger heads have bigger brains and are therefore smarter.
But a bigger head doesnt necessarily mean a bigger brain.
And just having a bigger brain doesnt make you smarter. Dolphins
actually have larger brains than humans. And rat brains have more
cells per cubic inch. Humans are more intelligent because our brains
have been fine-tuned to be more efficient.
get more active as they mature. A 3-year-olds brain is twice
as active as an adults. Why? The adult brain is more efficient.
It has gotten rid of connections that it doesnt need. By about
age 3, the brains cells have made most of their connections
to other cells. Over the next several years, connections are refined
based on experience. The connections that are used most will become
stronger. Those that are used least will eventually wither.
brain grows steadily across childhood. The human brain actually
develops in spurts. There are prime times when the brain
is best equipped to learn certain skills. Babies and young children
learn languages more easily than adults because their brains are
still developing language connections.
cant learn certain skills after childhood. There are certain
prime times in development when learning is easier. The brain is
especially efficient at learning during those prime times. But brain
development and learning continue throughout the lifetime. Learning
may be more difficult once the prime times are over, but it can
still happen. Adults are able to learn foreign languages, even if
their learning is not as quick or easy as a young childs.
begins when a child enters school. Pre-kindergarten or kindergarten
is the start of most American childrens formal education.
But the foundations for learning develop well before a child starts
school. The brain connections needed for learning begin developing
even before birth.
Early care also makes a difference in childrens ability to
learn. Warm, sensitive, consistent care helps babies develop a secure
attachment with their caregivers. Children with this secure bond
are more ready to learn. Early traumas such as abuse can slow brain
development. This makes learning more difficult.
is only for gifted and talented children. All babies and children
need experience to develop a rich network of brain connections.
Remember that children learn by doing. Give your baby a chance to
explore the world. Expose her to a variety of challenging experiences.
Support her when she tries new things. Encourage her to be creative.
need special help and expensive toys to develop their brain power.
What children need most are loving care and new experiences. But
these experiences dont need to be expensive. Talk and sing
to your baby. Go on a daily walk and point out some of the things
you see. Visit the library and pick out a book on a new topic. Sharing
time with your child and exposing him to new things goes a long
way toward helping his brain develop.
But beware of overstimulating your child. Some parents are so concerned
with brain development that they buy expensive educational toys,
videos, and flash cards. But theres no evidence that these
toys, by themselves, will make your child smarter. Too many new
experiences all at once wont help his brain development. He
needs time to process what he's learned before hes ready for
Jensen, E. (1998) Teaching with the brain in mind. Alexandria, VA:
Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
R. (1997). Rethinking the brain: New insights into early development.
New York: Families and Work Institute.
C. (1997). Your childs brain: Food for thought. Little Rock,
AR: Southern Early Childhood Association.
of the "Better Brains for Babies" Collaboration.
by the University of Georgia College of Family and Consumer Sciences
"Strengthening Georgia Families and Communities" Initiative.
The University of Georgia, a unit of the University System of Georgia,
is an Equal Opportunity/ Affirmative Action institution. The University
does not discriminate with respect to employment or admission on
the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, handicap
or veteran status. If you have a disability and need assistance
in order to obtain this fact sheet in an alternative format, please
contact the College of Family and Consumer Sciences at (706) 542-7566.
Bales, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor and Human Development Specialist,
Department of Child and Family Development. Reprinted with permission
from the University of Georgia. Bales, D. (1998). Building Baby's
Brain: The Basics. Athens, GA: University of Georgia, College of
Family and Consumer Sciences.