Can I shape my baby’s brain?

Yes. Your experiences with you shape your baby’s brain.

Genes provide the ‘program basics’, and then the brain deals with the world and the experiences you provide for your baby. Babies’ brains are very immature at first, and change and grow dramatically from birth to age 3.

At birth: When born babies’ brains weigh about 350 to 400 grams, about a third of our adult brains. At first and actually before birth, the basic foundation is constructed. When born babies’ brains have about 100 billion neurons.

Next: A child’s experiences and interactions with the people and the world around them helps build a more sophisticated structure. Tons of wires are laid between the neurons as they are being connected. Around the time of birth, about forty thousand new connections are added every second. More connections are laid at first, and those not or rarely used are pruned back over the years. By age one, babies’ brains have about 70% of the adult size, and by age two, they have reached about 80%. Babies’ brains are very busy construction sites consuming a lot of the energy, which explains why babies need a lot of sleep.

Even though the brain changes even after the teenage years, it is those early months and years in which the brains are most malleable and the kinds of experiences greatly matter. Richer language experiences are visible in children’s brains.

High-quality learning experiences matter!

While all typically developing babies eventually learn what they need to know, we now know that high quality experiences boost and accelerate learning – from the way babies learn to understand and talk, to how they learn to move and build their motor skills, or how they learn different concepts. The brain is like a muscle that can be built up and made stronger by high quality experiences. For example, lots of conversations early on with talking, singing, reading, etc., builds stronger language, learning and more efficient brains. Or, guiding your child with lots of spatial words when she’s playing with blocks, builds better math skills down the road. There’s many opportunities in everyday routines to nurture the child’s learning.

Learning is not destiny. Learning and intelligence are not fixed but malleable and can be stretched. Babies’ brains learn best with loving, attentive and caring adults. Avoid extreme stress for the baby. It harms the developing brain.

Learn the basics of how experiences build babies’ brain architecture (Center for the Developing Child, Harvard University).