For many years science has debated between the interplay of nature and nurture in the areas of growth and development. Our genetic composition guides how we learn and grow while our environment stimulates our nurturing. Early brain development and the caregiver interact to create the foundation for growth and learning. A caregiver can be anyone who looks after young children—-parents, grandparents, child care providers or teachers.
First three years of life
During the first 3 years of life, children experience the external world through their senses. The brain is developing the multisensory areas of sight, hearing, smell, touch and taste. Through the senses the toddler’s social, emotional, cognitive, physical and language are developed. Before children talk they are using emotional expression as their language to communicate. A caregiver’s smile and laughter will promote positive brain activity and feelings of security. If a caregiver is under a lot of stress and responds to the infant with anger or irritability—-it will wire their brain with negativity. The result could be that the child would not be able to display empathy toward others.
Early brain development research reinforces an important message about children—that from birth on children are ready to learn. Caregivers must be aware of the importance of these early years to stimulate appropriate learning and growth. Joan Luby professor of psychology at Washington University states, “We should pay more attention to parental nurturance. It validates something that I think is intuitive, that we’ve known throughout history, just how important parenting is to creative, adaptive human beings.”
Learning through the senses
Every day is a new opportunity for a child to learn where ever they are—–at home, a park, the store, or a restaurant. You could begin to experiment with different smells and watch their expressive language for likes and dislikes.
- Cinnamon and peppermint has been found to keep a toddler alert while lavender will calm her down when needed.
- The lighting of a room affects our alertness and responsiveness. You can calm an infant down with soft lights while bright lights will stimulate her and keep her awake.
- The color scheme of a room can also calm or stimulate the toddler. Pale yellow, off white and beige create a calm environment, while bright colors like red, orange, and yellow will stimulate creativity and excitement.
- Exposing an infant or toddler to quiet and soft music is calming while rhythmic music will get them excited and moving.
- For touch you could present different textures with food and clothing while using words to describe the item. This would help with language development.
Research shows that an infant’s positive and negative emotions in the brain derive from the caregiver’s responsiveness to them. Create opportunities for each child to reach beyond their abilities. Then they will discover what a wonderful world they have to discover and enjoy.