Last week, I met for the first time my little great-niece and great-nephew, who are almost 4 and almost 2. They are, of course, adorable—but they’re also smart and full of little-kid energy and imagination.(Image: iStock/SelectStock)
“My pediatrician asked if my daughter was saying three-word sentences at age 3,” my niece said. “I told him we’re at 11-word sentences.”
I was elated to hear that my niece was providing a lot of intellectual stimulation for her kids. It’s critical for optimal brain development.
Although studies show that the brain is elastic and kids from homes where there isn’t much stimulation can often catch up later, it’s best if the years between 0 and 3 are spent purposely preparing kids’ brains to excel.
Enriched Environments Make Children Ready for Preschool
According to the Brookings Institution, preschool is already too late for low-income kids who may be understimulated. Some problems begin even before birth: “… in animal studies, stress during pregnancy impedes neural development in the fetus and has a major impact on structures underlying self-control, attention, and memory. Beyond stress, toxins, nutrition, and physical health, other aspects of maternal health also affect brain development.”
But enriched environments make a huge difference: “Even more encouraging, brain imaging of children who are removed from adverse situations—such as those reared in institutions in Romania—demonstrates that when children are put in an enriched environment, they catch up in some aspects of brain development, while their peers who stay behind do not. This change is also reflected in their brain functioning. As in many animal studies, these results demonstrate the impact of enriched environments and improved caregiving on brain growth.”
A great resource for parents of young children is Zero to Three, an organization whose mission is to ensure that all children have a strong start in life. Its website offers lots of information for parents as well as professionals and policy makers.
Topics include brain development, challenging behaviors, sleep, and school readiness.
As my niece and nephew played with blocks, “read” books, and swung themselves around on my husband’s swivel chair, I could see how my niece and her husband had invested in them. That investment will make a huge difference both now and later.
For more, read the Brookings article here.