Why the first year is so important to future learning

By Dr Jane Williams, Gymbaroo

It is well known that what happens in the first year, not only matters, it matters a lot. Babies who have the right early movement experiences in their first year have better coordination, concentration, memory, behaviour and perception as they get older.

What is not well known is just how much of a dramatic influence parents can have over their babies’ brain growth and their future learning ability.

Every parent has the right to give their baby this chance.

A baby’s brain grows most rapidly in the first twelve months of life and this is a critical period for learning. Research has shown that the correct stimulation for babies can influence how well they behave, read and learn when they reach school. In addition, they have improved confidence, communication and socialisation skills.

During this first year the brain grows dramatically, producing billions of cells and hundreds of trillions of connections between these cells. A baby’s brain actually reaches over half of its adult size in the first three months.

It is well researched that during these earliest years of life much of the essential wiring linked to learning is laid down. Research into brain development clearly shows a child’s success at school is set in the earliest years of life.

There is an exciting and enormous amount of brain growth that can go on in this earliest year if babies are given the learning opportunities and the opportunity to use their brains. The human brain grows by use and this growth is practically complete by six years of age. This does not mean we cannot learn after this age, it simply means that the quality of learning available to us will depend primarily on the foundations we have acquired in our early years.

The biggest difference to the number of neural connections a child will end up with is made in the first year of life. During the first year, brain cells are busy making millions of connections. The connections peak at about one year and, in a process called ‘pruning’, they are eliminated if they are not used. The connections that babies regularly use are the ones they keep.

So how can we help a baby to ‘use’ their brain and raise a smart baby?

Movement is one of the key experiences that promote learning for babies. Babies’ brains grow through movement. Introducing the correct movement experiences into your baby’s daily life from the earliest months will have a profound influence on their brain growth and neurological organisation. Fun and loving movement activities will stimulate intellectual, physical and emotional growth providing solid foundations for a future of learning, health and happiness.

Babies are born to move and programmed to develop along a specific sequence of physical milestones. It’s a step-by-step process. Each stage provides them with the experiences necessary for the next developmental level of achievement. These milestones correlate with stages of brain development. Alongside the development of movement skills, other key areas of brain development are also being stimulated and readied for future learning.

Importantly, we need to remember not to ‘hurry’ a child through the developmental process. The brain needs lots of time, experience and practice to ‘wire up’ every new motor skill it learns. These movements and the quality of the movements within each stage of development will determine the amount of brain growth.

The correct early movement experiences are easy, natural and fun and any parent can do them with their babies. Parents are a child’s first, most important and best teacher.

Through the BabyROO programs, they strive to help parents feel confident in their knowledge about their babies’ brain and body development and provide them with developmentally appropriate and loving activities that can be easily accomplished both at GymbaROO and at home.

Dr Jane Williams (PhD, BMgt, RN(Paeds)) is the Research and Education General Manager for GymbaROO and KindyROO. Dr Williams is one of Australia’s leading experts on baby and child development. 

Note: The views and advice expressed on this blog post are those of the author and are not representative of the Pregnancy Babies & Children's Expo.

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