Brain Development in the Early Years

Early Childhood

Early experiences affect the development of brain architecture, which provides the foundation for all future learning.” – Center on the Developing Child

man in gray shirt holding baby in white onesie
Photo by nappy

If you haven’t already read What is ECD? it’s a great place to start as topics mentioned there will relate to what I’ll discuss here. As I mentioned in that article, the first 3 years of a child’s life is the most important. Relationships and experiences play a significant part in the earliest years as it is ultimately where it all begins. Experiences are created through relationships and it is how a young child learns. Nurturing and supportive experiences (through serve and return) repeated overtime with the caregivers in a child’s life eventually forms a healthy, secure attachment which is bounded by a feeling of trust and security. These repeated experiences and type of relationships all get build into the architecture of the developing brain (see: “More on Brain Development” below). A secure attachment is formed when a child has learned that they can trust that their needs will be consistently met, and they feel a sense of safety and protection with their caregivers. There are also 2 other types of attachment styles. The type of relationship a child has established from the beginning sets the template for how they will view future relationships. This template is known as their internal working model. When a child learns that both they and their needs are important and will be met, this contributes to the later development of many future competencies, including how they feel about themselves, their attitude towards learning and others, the types of relationships they will continue to form, and even how they understand and interpret their own emotions and that of others.

It’s important that future relationships, especially those that are formed outside the context of the family and home, are also sources of trust and safety; such as when a child enters school and is exposed to opportunities to develop relationships with their peers and teachers. Children learn best through relationships in all contexts. A child will continue to learn things such as people have needs, feelings and thoughts that are different than their own, such as in situations that may require them to share or wait their turn. In school, when a child has established a positive relationship with their teachers and peers, they are more likely to be eager to learn, attend, and be successful in school. The positive relationships and experiences early in their life lay the foundation for hopefully new positive relationships, experiences and learning to form. If a child is going to school not feeling happy and excited to learn, there is possibly a reason why and it’s important to pay attention to that.  

I understand that brain development in the early years is a very board topic which is why I’ve kept this article short. As I continue to publish more posts, you will learn from a range of topics that contribute to an understanding of how children grow and develop into adulthood. The two things I want you to take away from this article is the importance of early relationships and experiences. These both play a large part in present and future development but do not operate in isolation. It’s important to acknowledge that there are a range of other factors that contribute to development. These will also appear in future posts. So, stay tuned, as I hope to continue sharing with you.

More on Brain Development

The Brain Architects Podcast: Brain Architecture: Laying the Foundation


This website is provided only for informational purposes and not intended to be used to replace professional advice, treatment or professional care. Always speak to your physician, healthcare provider or pediatrician if you have concerns about your own health or the health of a child.

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