You may have heard the expression, ‘The First 1000 Days’. When is this measured from? Does it mean from birth onwards, or from conception? Or does it just mean the length of time since you actually got a full night’s sleep?!! Actually, the first 1000 days refers to the period from the moment of conception, until your child’s second birthday.
Why are the first 1000 days important?
When your baby is born, only 25% of their brain will have developed. There is a huge amount of development and growth still to happen. This seems logical since the same applies to your child’s tiny body! However, unlike our physical bodies which continue to grow until the late teens (and beyond for some of us!!), your baby’s brain will be 90% developed by the age of 3.[i] Just think about that for a moment …. by the time your baby has been on this planet for just 3 years their brain is almost fully developed. That’s a lot of brain activity in a very short space of time!
But, can you affect this brain development?
Research is finding out more and more about the effect of early experiences on brain development. What is clear from the scientific findings, is that it is the quality and content of these early, interactive experiences which have a direct impact on the developing brain. If these experiences are positive, then they will help to build a strong foundation for the rest of brain development. If the experiences are less positive, this foundation may be less robust. The type of foundation that is built will affect not only emotional development but also health and future learning. If a child has experiences to promote positive brain development, they will enter school ready to learn and ready to fulfil their potential. We’re not talking about complicated, deep and meaningful experiences here – just things like being spoken to, being played with, having eye contact with their parents and other carers, having the opportunity to enjoy sensory activities, having fun and enjoying cuddles and giggles…..
So what actually happens during the first 1000 days?
From the moment your baby is born, they will have most of the nerve cells, or neurons, that they will need for the rest of their lives! This is not to say that our brains don’t continue to learn and develop – this process hopefully continues throughout the whole of life (!) – but the nuts of bolts of the structure of the brain are all there at birth. Pretty amazing if you think about it! The main thing that needs to happen is that these nerve cells need to be connected together into a complicated network that will, in turn, develop into thought processes and actions. These connections are called ‘synapses’ and they are formed rapidly during the first 1000 days.
How does this happen? Well, every time a parent or carer interacts with a baby, or the baby experiences something new and interesting, synapses are formed. The more that are formed, the stronger the network of connections grows. If the interaction happens again, the synapse connection is strengthened. This process continues all the time. However, if a connection is not used or reinforced by additional activities or experiences, then the connection withers up and dies, through a process called pruning. This is a natural and healthy part of brain development. It is just like the process of pruning a plant in the garden. And, just like pruning in a garden helps a plant to grow stronger, the process also helps the brain to grow.
Why is this important?
This may all seem very interesting, but why is this so important? How does all this science actually affect you and your baby?
Well, science has found that children whose brain synapses have been strengthened by lots of early positive experiences with parents and carers will be better prepared for future brain development in later life and have better life outcomes. They will also be more prepared for when they enter school or more formal learning environments. If a child is school ready, then they are ready to learn and this has a huge impact on their potential success. [ii]
Better brain development…. Better emotional security…. Better learning…. Better life outcomes.
How you interact with your baby and the experiences that you provide for your baby are going to have an impact on the rest of their lives. It’s that important!
If you have found this information interesting and challenging, then please share it with as many people as you can. Children deserve the best chances in life.
[i] Journals.sagepub.com. (2018). New Views on the Young Brain: Offerings from Developmental Psychology to Early Childhood Education - Di Catherwood, 2000. [online] Available at: http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.2304/ciec.2000.1.1.4 [Accessed 16 Oct. 2018].
[ii] Are you ready? Good practice in school readiness OFSTED UK Published: April 2014 Reference no: 140074. (2018). .