How the Human Brain Develops and Adapts in Early Childhood
The human brain is one of the most complex and fascinating organs in the body. It is responsible for our thoughts, emotions, memories, creativity, and intelligence. It also controls our movements, senses, and vital functions. But how much do we really know about this remarkable organ? In this article, we will explore some of the amazing facts and discoveries about the human brain and its development in early childhood.
How Big Is the Human Brain?
The human brain weighs about 1.4 kilograms (3 pounds) and has a volume of about 1.3 liters (0.34 gallons). It contains about 86 billion neurons (nerve cells) and 85 billion glial cells (support cells) that communicate with each other through trillions of synapses (connections). The brain consumes about 20% of the body’s oxygen and glucose, even though it only accounts for 2% of the body’s weight.
The human brain has more than three billion base pairs of DNA in its genes, which encode the instructions for its structure and function. However, not all of these genes are expressed (turned on) at the same time or in the same way. The brain is constantly changing its gene expression in response to internal and external stimuli, such as learning, stress, or disease. This process is called epigenetics and it influences how the brain develops and adapts throughout life.
The human brain also has a remarkable storage capacity for information. According to some estimates, the brain can store up to 4 terabytes of data, which is equivalent to about 8,000 hours of high-definition video or 2 million songs. However, this does not mean that we can remember everything we see or hear. The brain selectively filters and organizes the information it receives and stores it in different regions and networks according to its relevance and importance. The brain also constantly updates and modifies its memories based on new experiences and knowledge.
How Does the Human Brain Develop?
The human brain begins to form in the womb, about three weeks after conception. By the end of the first trimester, the basic structure and shape of the brain are established. By the end of the second trimester, the brain starts to produce neurons at a rapid rate, reaching a peak of about 250,000 neurons per minute. By the time of birth, the brain has almost all of its neurons, but only a fraction of its synapses.
The development of the brain continues after birth, especially during the first few years of life. This is a critical period for learning and shaping the brain’s architecture and function. The brain grows rapidly in size and weight, reaching about 80% of its adult volume by age three. The brain also undergoes a process called synaptic pruning, which eliminates excess or unused synapses and strengthens the remaining ones. This process enhances the efficiency and specificity of neural communication and allows for more complex cognitive abilities.
One of the most remarkable features of the human brain in early childhood is its plasticity, which is its ability to change and adapt in response to experience and environment. The brain is more plastic in childhood than in adulthood, meaning that it can more easily form new connections and reorganize existing ones. This makes children more capable of learning new skills and languages, but also more vulnerable to trauma and stress.
What Are Some of the Wonders of Early Childhood?
Early childhood is a time of wonder and discovery for both children and their parents. Children are constantly exploring their world and learning new things every day. They also develop their personality, identity, emotions, and social skills through their interactions with others.
One of the wonders of early childhood is how children acquire language. Language is a complex system of symbols and rules that allows us to communicate our thoughts and feelings. Children learn language naturally and effortlessly by listening to and imitating their parents and caregivers. By age one, most children can say a few words and understand many more. By age two, most children can form simple sentences and ask questions. By age three, most children can use language to express their opinions, preferences, and emotions.
Another wonder of early childhood is how children develop their motor skills. Motor skills are the abilities to control our muscles and movements. Children develop their motor skills gradually from simple reflexes to coordinated actions. By age one, most children can crawl, sit up, stand up, and walk with support. By age two, most children can walk independently, run, jump, climb stairs, kick a ball, and hold a spoon. By age three, most children can ride a tricycle, throw a ball overhand, draw circles and lines, cut with scissors, and button their clothes.
A third wonder of early childhood is how children can breathe and swallow simultaneously up to seven months of age. This is a unique ability that humans have compared to other mammals, and it allows them to feed more efficiently and safely. The reason why children can do this is because their larynx (voice box) is positioned higher in the throat than in adults, creating a continuous airway from the nose to the lungs. This also enables them to produce a wide range of sounds and vocalizations. However, as children grow older, their larynx descends lower in the throat, separating the airway from the food passage. This makes them more prone to choking, but also allows them to produce more complex speech sounds.