Early Brain Development
New research on early brain development provides a wonderful opportunity to examine how nature and nurture work together to shape human development. Brain research distinguishes between sensitive periods and critical periods of development. The difference is important for recognizing what infants and toddlers need early in life.
Critical periods represent a narrow window of time during which a specific part of the body is most vulnerable to the absence of stimulation or to environmental influences. Vision is a good example: unless an infant sees light during the first 6 months, the nerves leading from the eye to the visual cortex of the brain that processes these signals will degenerate and die. We know that certain drugs taken during pregnancy at critical times will cause birth defects.
Sensitive periods are the broad windows of opportunity for certain types of learning. Sensitive periods represent a less precise and often longer period of time when skills such as acquiring a second language are influenced. But, if the opportunity for learning does not arise, these potential new skills are not lost forever. Individuals learn new languages at many different times in their lives. Skills acquired during sensitive periods are those that some people are better at than others. They include the social, emotional and mental characteristics that make us interesting people. The early brain research highlights birth through age 3 as a sensitive period for development and learning in all areas. The early brain development research reinforces an important message about children. From birth on, children are ready and eager to learn and grow.
For additional information on Early Brain Development, request Nature, Nurture and Early Brain Development GH 6115, University of Missouri Extension.