Humans are quite unique. We’re born with only our survival mechanisms intact (breathing, heart rate, blood pressure and such). We must learn everything else beyond survival:
(1) our brain must find our body (infants slowly discover their fingers and toes – and that they actually MOVE!). Our brain must learn ‘where’ to find and create all the connections that operate our different body parts. This process of learning will also be used later for academics and higher learning.
(2) We learn about the outside world / what it means to us through our senses.
Connections are driven by MOVEMENT, movement that arises from our lower brain (the brain stem) in the form of primitive reflexes. The dance between brain and body begins before birth but blossoms into primitive reflexes by birth and then in a few months to postural reflexes, both of which will initiate and drive connections to our higher brain. Why is this important? These connections take the brain from the lower brain stem (survival) up to the higher brain, the cortex, which develops into our ‘thinking brain’. The presence and absence of these reflexes can also be used by clinicians to evaluate the development of the brain.
We now know that babies learn much sooner and are capable of much more than was thought just a few decades ago:
(1) Babies have been shown to recognize and prefer a book read to them during the last 6 weeks of pregnancy. Within hours of birth, babies preferred familiar stories read by their mother over a different story. Babies may not see mom, but they can hear mom (and dad) during pregnancy and recognize the story and the voice within hours of birth (used pacifiers hooked up to computers which measure sucking rates – babies suck slower when intently interested in something).
(2) During the first month of life, a baby’s brain will increase the connections between other brain cells by twenty-fold. If a baby’s body grew this much, the baby would weigh 170 lbs. at one year of age!
(3) IQ is not fixed at birth – we now know IQ can vary by 20-30 points depending on environmental experiences that a baby is exposed to on a consistent basis.
(4) Pediatricians recommend no ‘screen time’ (no TV, ipad, iphone, computer) until 2 years of age – because they can negatively affect the development of our attention span and attentional system.
'Bright From the Start' by Jill Stamm, PhD
First Three Years
We experience and connect to our world (both inside our bodies and outside) through our senses. During this time, sensory information comes to the brain to begin the long process of understanding our bodies and the environment into which we are born.
As our brain is sorting through all the various information coming its way, the emotional centers of the brain are also developing and ‘wiring’. This joint timing means the incoming information will also be 'tagged' with emotional content which places great importance on the emotional environment for the baby.